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The firing squad

Dan Richards, the chairman of the state Fish and Game commission, created an uproar with his photos from a mountain lion hunt in Idaho. State legislators are calling for his ouster, and Richards says he’s not going anywhere.

I have no problem with hunting. I’d rather eat pheasant than chicken, antelope than beef. And tempests like this one make for red meat politics. I’ve got no problem with that, either. But there is one reason that Richards ought to go. Hunting ought to be consistent with conservation and species protection – and, no, I’m not going to argue that he needs to abide by California protections for mountain lions when he’s in Idaho, which has no such law. (Besides, have we heard any legislators calling for the resignations of their colleagues who were arrested, arrested mind you, for shoplifting or trying to carry loaded firearms onto airplanes?) But as a commissioner, Richards has opposed efforts to outlaw lead ammunition, which is undermining efforts to save the California condor. The condor is a carrion eater, and dozens of them have died after ingesting lead ammunition.

To protect waterfowl from lead poisoning, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has prohibited hunters from using lead shot since 1991. In California, state law prohibits the use of lead shot in 15 counties identified as condor habitat, but that hasn’t stopped the incidents of lead poisoning. The state ban on lead ammunition ought to be extended to all 58 counties.

– Jim Sweeney





22 Responses to “The firing squad”

  1. Jim Sweeney says:

    I don’t believe every one of the studies/reports listed here — http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/campaigns/get_the_lead_out/scientific_reports.html — was peer-reviewed, but some of them were.

    The American Bird Conservancy — http://www.abcbirds.org/newsandreports/stories/120208.html — reports that it has reviewed 500 mostly peer-reviewed studies concluding that lead ammunition is a significant cause of lead poisoning of adult condors.

  2. BigDogatPlay says:

    You’re posting summaries and non-peer reviewed opinion Mr. Sweeney.

    From a report by DFG scientists adopted by the commission in 2009, http://www.fgc.ca.gov/public/reports/californiacondorleadreport2008.pdf, comes this nugget….

    The Department and Commission have concluded that this information,
    representing the initial year after adoption of the regulation to prohibit lead
    in condor range, is not systematically collected in a manner to effectively
    address the reasonable questions related to the Commission’s reporting
    requirement. Thus, the information should not be considered conclusive of
    any “cause and effect” relationship between the prohibition of lead
    projectiles in condor range and blood lead levels detected in condors. In
    part, this is because the sources of lead in sampled condors are unknown,
    relationships of sampled condors to hunting activity are unknown, and as it
    relates to the regulations in place that prohibit lead projectiles in condor
    range, the condor feeding habits for this period of time are also unknown.

    Subsequent reports don’t seem to put much more lumber on the framework. Put simply…. no one really knows for sure if condors are actually ingesting lead from spent projectiles out of carcasses and gut piles. Most of what comes out of the lead banners, as well as a lot of what comes out of advocacy groups like NSSF is just propaganda competing with itself. Neither can prove anything conclusively. The assertion that 10, or 20 or 30 birds have died from lead toxicity has never been properly documented that I’ve seen. Just thrown out as fact in summaries and non-scientific reports.

    Going back to the Arizona, that summary page you linked is not reporting the state’s research, rather it is parroting claims of the lead ban crowd. There is no proven correlation… just a hunch. I might also point out that Arizona’s government pointedly refused an outright ban on lead ammo in the condor range largely because of the specious science, or lack thereof. Arizona recommends non-lead projectiles but doesn’t mandate them.

    There is no concrete proof. Which makes your journalistic leap of faith from Mr. Richards’ legal taking of a mountain lion in another state to pillorying him over his opposition to a lead ammo ban all the more unfair.

  3. Jim Sweeney says:

    Steveguy,
    Unfortunately, there’s evidence that the existing ban on lead ammunition in counties identified as condor habitat isn’t working very well. But it isn’t a blanket prohibition either — it doesn’t extend to upland game birds and small-game mammals. It seems to me that extending the ban to all game and non-game animals ought to be tried before regulating target shooting, self-defense, etc. I share your view about real sportsmen and sportswomen — and I would think they’d avoid plinking with lead ammunition in condor country too, even if isn’t outlawed.

  4. Steveguy says:

    Jim Sweeney is right on one point, that lead ammunition should not be used for hunting purposes. I am not sure whether he wants to ban ALL lead ammo , as most is not used for hunting.

    I am all for a ban on lead ammo used for hunting, but ammo for say a Glock 40 is different to me.

    All real ‘sportsmen’ , and women should agree to that.

  5. Jim Sweeney says:

    From the Arizona Game and Fish Department (link: http://www.azgfd.gov/w_c/california_condor_lead.shtml): Lead toxicity has been identified as the leading cause of death in condors in the Arizona reintroduction program. At least fifteen condors have died of lead poisoning since 2000. Condors are trapped twice a year to have their blood tested for lead. Biologists have documented over 300 instances of lead exposure in condors since testing began in 1999, with 45 to 95 percent of the condor population testing positive for lead exposure each year. Chelation treatment is often required to reverse dangerously high blood lead levels. Surgery has also been needed in the worst cases. Without these treatments more condors likely would have died.

    Although there may be other sources of lead, a scientific study funded by the Arizona Game and Fish Department has identified lead from spent ammunition as the major source of lead in condors. Background lead from the environment does not appear to be a factor. An additional study has determined that condor lead exposure rates are highest during the fall hunting season in northern Arizona. This study also concluded that during this same time, condors spend forage heavily on the Kaibab Plateau. The Arizona Game and Fish Department is committed to reducing the amount of lead available to condors by encouraging sportsmen to take lead reduction actions when hunting in condor range.

    From the National Park Service (link: http://www.nps.gov/pinn/naturescience/leadinfo.htm): Numerous scientific studies have reached a consensus: lead poisoning is the biggest threat facing the successful recovery of the California condor. Semi-annual test results show that the majority of free-flying condors at Pinnacles National Monument have blood lead levels that exceed 10 ug/dL, which is the same threshold used by the Center for Disease Control as an initial warning sign that a human child is at risk. Some condors have been measured with blood lead levels as high as 570 ug/dL, a value that would potentially kill a human. By the time condors at Pinnacles reach breeding age of 7 years old, almost all of them have received emergency, life-saving chelation treatment at least once. Numerous condors in the flock have now required multiple chelation cycles.
    Scientific studies have documented that the primary source of this lead is from spent ammunition that remains in carcasses after they are shot. When a lead rifle bullet traveling at almost 3 times the speed of sound strikes animal tissue, it quickly begins to expand and loses hundreds of tiny pieces as it continues its journey. The organs and other bloodshot areas that are trimmed away and left behind are usually contaminated with these lead fragments. Because condors feed on dead animals and are group feeders, even small amounts of lead can sicken or kill many condors. Also, since all of their meals come from dead animals, condors are more frequently exposed to lead bullet hazards than most wildlife.

    You also might read this from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: http://www.fws.gov/contaminants/pdf/lead_poisoning_wild_birds_USGS2009.pdf

    Or this from the Journal of Wildlife Management: http://www.bioone.org/doi/abs/10.2193/2007-084

    Or this summary of a report published by UC Santa Cruz: http://www.abcbirds.org/newsandreports/releases/110408.html

  6. BigDogatPlay says:

    Mr. Sweeney still has not brought forth any peer reviewed scientific data that supports the efficacy of the lead ammo ban.

    Again a nice trick of trying to make one thing into another. Richards was legal. However, because Mr. Sweeney has attached himself to the lead ban point of view, for reasons that are unclear, Richards still has to go because he actually pays attention to the scientists that advise the commission on how best to steward the resources. Now the deflection involves legislators.

    How about some journalistic integrity? Or is it easier to simply label those you disagree with.

  7. Commonsense says:

    @Jim,
    What does any of that have to do with the issue at hand, i.e. certain politicians asking for Richards to be fired for participating in a legal activity outside the state of CA???
    Seems to me like you are trying to connect two issues that are unrelated in support of those requesting his termination?

  8. Jim Sweeney says:

    All too often, hypocrisy and politics go hand in hand, offering easy pickings for news guys. Paul Rogers of the San Jose Mercury News offers an excellent example today with a story about the Republican state senators rallying around Dan Richards. Rogers turns back the clock four years when three dozen legislative Republicans, including nine of the 11 who signed the pro-Richards letter, demanded the removal of Richards’ predecessor. Why? It seems that Judd Hanna, an appointee of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, as is Richards, was urging fellow Fish and Game commissioners to ban lead ammunition to protect California condors. Hanna resigned under pressure.
    Here’s a link to Rogers’ story: http://www.mercurynews.com/science/ci_20107222.

  9. Matthew says:

    Geez, so he came up to Idaho and shot a Mountain Lion. Would there be a difference if he went on an African Safari. Some of you make it out to be a big deal.

  10. John says:

    Judy, then any official who goes to the Indian casinos or Nevada or Atlantic City should be taken out of office here because gambling is illegal in California? Or any citizen of the state should be fined for gambling where it’s legal? That ranks up there with those who get arrested in other states for drug possession because “medical marijuana” is legal in CA, and the other states should give full faith and credit for that. Completely ridiculous.

  11. Commonsense says:

    Dan Richards broke no laws or moral codes. He went on a hunting trip and shot and killed a lion (legally).
    @Judy,
    If you want to start getting rid of all those in government who don’t “honor” California Laws, then lets start with the ones who’ve actually been arreseted and charged with law violations, then lets start getting rid of the ones who travel to Nevada to gamble. One a positive note we could probably get rid of 90% of the State Reps. and a good portion of our Federal Reps. and start fresh with some new ones.
    @Shirley,
    So, he is mentally unhealthy because he went on a hunting trip. Well, then the majority of my tax paying family is mentally unhealthy as we often go on fishing trips both in state and out of state.
    And, how does this writer boot strap from the narrow issue of hunting a lion to lead issues???? Not to mention the absoulte lack of facts to support his opinion.
    Dan Richards should not only stay, he should get hazard pay for putting up with all this emotional blather about absolutely nothing.

  12. RAW says:

    Dan Richards shot a mountain lion. Mounain lion hunting should be legal in California because we have way too many. Dan Richards should be pushing for legal lion hunts in California. Maybe now he will. He went, he hunted, he killed abig a cat and can speak from experience. I don’t question the mental health of a person who worships at the alta of mother earth, so no one should be questioning Dan Richards mental health because he killed a mountain lion. The opportunity is coming to town near you. Sonoma, Santa Rosa, Windsor, Petaluma have all killed mountain lions in the their city limits. They hunt 100 square miles a day and chase down deer for a living. As their population gets more out of control in this state, who are you going to call when a big cat is dragging your child or grandchild off in to the brush? It doesn’t matter, it will be too late. This that heard now. Dan Richards it the on the lead the fight. Great photos, by the way. Go Carnivores.

  13. TheJerk says:

    What a lazy excuse for an editorial. Not even counting the fact that he uses no facts or science to back his claim, this piece has zero merit. His job is to take info from scientists and biologists, and approve or disapprove of regulations. The reason this is such a hot item is because most people are very dishonest, or should I say ignorant about their food. All of the kill by proxy meat eaters are in a frenzy because a cute little animal was killed. Fish and Game regs don’t affect anybody that doesn’t hunt or fish. Personally I prefer a guy who bases decisions off of facts, science, and logic. Not some “so called animal lover” who thinks he is a condor expert because he saw a video on you tube.

  14. shirley durban says:

    What is the state’s chief steward of our wildlife doing going for the trophy shot of our big cats and sending this shot out to his gaming and fishing boys? I don’t care which side of the NRA or barbed wire hunting fence you’re on, this bureaucrat, Richards, is fishing for a stop sign, and should get the big ticket outta here. He should have stuck with wild pig hunting with Floerke and his other DF&G boys.

    You just don’t get yourself appointed to protect and manage plant and animal resources in a diverse and complex state like this one, then play ‘mine’s bigger than yours’ with the large mammal predator trophy techno-smartstalk and photo.

    This is not hunting. This is big boys ‘managing’ for other boys’ arousal.

    Please, in this time of state agency budget cutbacks and increases of wildlife poaching, and other serious impacts, let’s seize this great opportunity to get a mentally healthy and effective advocate for better managing our precious wildlife resources, while leaving other states to their mismanagement practices that our state ‘leaders’ can keep their trigger-happy fingers out of.

  15. NoQuarters says:

    in 2010 DFG issue 2.8 million fishing permits in California
    so lets get rid of all DFG employees?
    or just the people who cast a line ?
    or shoot in a barrel
    or maybe get rid of people who make comments like
    “WE HAVE TO PASS THE HEALTHCARE BILL IN ORDER TO KNOW WHATS IN IT” “UNEMPLOYMENT CREATES JOBS”

  16. BigDogatPlay says:

    A nice try to leverage one completely irrelevant issue into another one Mr. Sweeney.

    I agree with you, so long as Mr. Richards was obeying the hunting laws of Idaho when he hunted there, his legal take of a mountain lion is a complete non-issue here in California. Save for the greens who don’t understand what effects the lack of resource management here in the Golden State as relates to the loins are having.

    We part company, however, over your wrong headed insistence that Mr. Richards must be sent packing because he does not support the lead ammunition ban in the condor’s territory. That is a band that the Fish & Game Commission’s own scientists urged the commission not to enact simply because there was virtually no verifiable, scientific evidence that there was or is a problem with lead in the condor population.

    The greens, however, went to the Legislature with their emotional, non-scientific pleading and got that body to step in front of the commission and pass a law banning lead ammunition in the condor zone. Again… no science. No birds with toxic levels of lead in their bloodstream. No evidence that lead is a causative factor in the death of a single condor in the wild. Yet, we have a ban which the greens would happily extend across the entire state.

    While I realize that an emotional plea is often a strong one, even columnists writing opinion pieces are supposed to do some actual research before committing their thoughts and ideas to the keyboard. Mr. Sweeney has, apparently, not done that here.

    I would challenge him to produce the verifiable, peer reviewed scientific research that supports his position on lead ammunition and, concurrently, that of the greens who have foisted this sham upon the hunters of the 15 affected counties.

  17. NOTUTOO says:

    Were you going to write an article calling for the resignation of Dan Richards because he opposes a law outlawing lead ammunition before he shot the cougar? You don’t have a problem with the legal taking of the cougar in Idaho, and you have no problem with hunting so why bring it up at all?

    The condor/lead shot connection is also a bit misleading since there already is a law prohibiting lead shot within current and potential condor ranges in California. Is there a citation for the statement that the incidents of lead poisoning hasn’t stopped? I’m wondering if the science behind the statement, “and dozens of them have died” is pre or post Ridley-Tree Condor Preservation act.

    For the record, I’m all for a ban on lead shotgun ammunition in all 58 counties. Though I am against character assasination based on possibly misleading and uncited facts. Make your case if you have one.

  18. Sarkyfish says:

    P.S. According the California Department of Fish and Game, Mountain lions may be killed 1) if a depredation permit is issued to take a specific lion killing livestock or pets; 2) to preserve public safety (your child; a mountain bike rider, or a trail jogger) or 3) to protect listed bighorn sheep. Thus, technically, a mountain lion my shot and killed legally in California as they will be more frequently in the future because they are increasing at a rapid rate. Have you ever seen what they do to Bambi?

  19. Brenton says:

    You’re right, Judy–good point. And you know what? Every politician who has ever smoked a cigarette in a bar should be fired, since that is no longer legal in CA. And anyone who has gone to Las Vegas to gamble should be fired since it isn’t legal in most CA jurisdictions.

    Wait a minute…

  20. Skippy says:

    Banning lead shot has diddly-squat to do with saving Condors, just as banning DDT had bupkis to do with saving other birds.
    It is about controlling humans and restricting their ability to hunt or use firearms.
    DDT has never killed any organisms except insects, yet Rachel Carson’s fantacist book and Congress’ kneejerk response has doomed tens of millions to agonizing deaths from malaria and similar diseases.
    Nice job by Big Govt.
    Save the mosquitos; kill the people.
    Lead shot bans make delusional environazis feel good but don’t help birds.

  21. Judy Pineda says:

    Mr. Richards should be fired because his actions show that he does not honor the law he is supposed to uphold, whether that law is different in other states or not. It is the law here, and to cross the border and do exactly what that law prohibits shows that he is not a steward of our California laws, and therefore should not be a CA Fish and Game commissioner. He can go to Idaho and be a commissioner there, or join some kind of trophy hunting lobby here to influence politics, but he should not be in a position that purportedly is meant to uphold California Fish and Game laws.

  22. Sarkyfish says:

    Dan Richards should not be fired. He broke no laws. However mountain lions have killed people: in California, Barbara Schouner in 1994 while she was out running; a ten year old boy in Colorado in 1997, and another boy in Missoula Montana who was taken from his own back yard! The issue of lead shot in condor deaths comes from very limited studies and is a non sequitur in regards to the issue of losing one’s job for legally shooting a mountain lion in Idaho, and if Mr. Sweeney does not know that a non sequitur is an inference that does not follow from the premise that Richards should be fired for legally shooting a mountain lion in Idaho, then Mr. Sweeney should be fired himself for journalistic malfeasance.