Overwhelming Opposition to CPW’s Carnivore Killing Studies

Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) is proposing two different studies, one in the Piceance Basin and the other near the Arkansas River, to kill large numbers of mountain lions and black bears in an effort to increase mule deer populations in the state.  For those of us who understand the importance of conserving biodiversity and the interconnectedness of all ecosystems, these attempts are alarming.  Mule deer decline across the West is a legitimate concern; however, addressing the problem through unsustainable and unscientific killing of mountain lions and bears is not the solution.

This past Monday, myself and 70 others gathered in Denver to attend a CPW Listening Session, in which liaisons to CPW’s Commission, which is a group of citizens appointed by the governor, listened to comments of opposition and support for the newest attempts to lethally manage wildlife, in particular black bears and mountain lions, in Colorado.

Fortunately, 23 people spoke in opposition and only 5 spoke in support of the plans to cull black bears and mountain lions.  For those who spoke in support of the lethal management studies, the justifications ranged from downplaying the importance of predators in ecosystems, personal anecdotes of witnessing a localized decrease in mule deer population and an increase in carnivores, and understandably, concerns for mule deer herd health.  

CWP Meeting, Monday 9-22-16. Photo credit Hailey Hawkins

CPW Meeting, Monday 9-22-16. Photo credit Hailey Hawkins

Many compelling questions and concerns surfaced from the diverse group of 23 people who spoke in opposition to the lethal management studies.  A self-identified ethical hunter expressed that trophy hunting is more detrimental to herd health than natural carnivores, because those hunters are consistently taking the bucks with the greatest genetic health.  Several people questioned the carrying capacity of Colorado to support the CPW objective of having 500,000+ mule deer, and rather, pointed to habitat encroachment from development and fossil fuel extraction as the true culprits of decreasing mule deer numbers.  Another spoke of the inevitable changes to wildlife habitat that are and will continue to be caused by global climate change.   A clergyman spoke of our divine responsibility to protect creation and to mourn the death of God’s creatures, not perpetuate it.  And yet another individual expressed that the plan reeks of politics.  Instead of addressing ATV use in wilderness areas and fossil fuel extraction, we are scapegoating carnivores.  Alternatives to these lethal plans were suggested, including studying the effects of development on the mule deer habitat rather than killing predators and reducing the number of hunting tags sold.

Mountain lion. Photo credit USFWS

Mountain lion. Photo credit USFWS

Even with overwhelming opposition from folks on the Front Range, these plans are still on the table until December 14th, when the Commission has their final meeting of the year.  How can you help?  Send an email to the CPW Commission in protest of the two lethal management studies above (Talking points here via HSUS).  While the decline of mule deer across the Western US is a major concern, killing mountain lions and black bears is not the solution.  To quote an individual from Monday’s Listening Session, “Nature is a much better manager of wildlife then we could ever be.”

As I was sitting in the Hunter Education building at CPW’s Denver office, I felt it ironic that as people voiced their opinions about whether or not to kill mountain lions, a stuffed one hanging on the wall watched them from above.  I couldn’t help but think that however physically removed many of us are from these creatures, we are still, for good or bad, fundamentally connected.  In the grand scheme, our fate is intrinsically tied to theirs.  

I also was unable to ignore that everyone there, no matter what side they were on, were all genuinely concerned about the health of the herd.  There is no doubt that we all want a healthy Colorado, yet at this time, we still don’t agree on how to achieve that.  Until then, we must continue to stand for wildlife and ensure that our decision makers make the best choice for us and our delicate ecosystems in Colorado.  Stand for wildlife by emailing the CPW Commission today and voicing your opposition to these lethal management studies!

The War against Poaching In 2016

This is a guest post from Jack Smith.

Poaching has been around almost as long as people have been hungry, but only became an offense during the late middle ages when the right to hunt was limited to landowners. Clearly, back then the reasons were to protect the nobility’s right to sport rather than for wildlife conservation.

Things changed somewhat during 1700’s, at a time when poaching was a means of survival for many. Poaching gangs began selling on the black market and this brought about the beginnings of the poaching industry we know today – poaching for profit – putting wildlife in peril along the way.

It wasn’t until the 1900s when governments began legislating in an effort to protect wildlife. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act was one of the first international agreements to protect migratory birds being killed or sold for profit. The 1960s saw the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species on Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) leading up to the Endangered Species Act in 1973. This was followed by the global ivory ban in 1989.

While many people are allowed to hunt and fish for food and population control, many animals, such as elephant, tigers, rhinoceros and bear are poached for their body parts. The illegal ivory trade has been well-documented in the media, but bear, rhinoceros, pangolin and tiger parts are sought for eastern medicine, even though most of these treatments has no proven medical value. This has resulted with many species decimated, threatened with extinction or, as in the case of the Western Black Rhino, wiped out altogether.

Wildlife is becoming history

The statistics make sad reading.

Governments have taken action. More than 154 nations having signed treaties to regulate the trade of 30,000 species of threatened animals and plants, but poaching is just as big a problem now as it’s ever been.

Rhino poaching is at a crisis point, with bigger numbers being killed year-on-year for the six years leading up to 2016.[v] You can see the figures here. All five remaining rhino species are on the IUCN’s redlist of threatened species, with three of those classified as ‘critically endangered’. This is thought to be due to growing demand in Vietnam and China.

Furthermore, Paul Allen’s Great Elephant Census found that approximately 100,000 elephants have been killed in the past four years alone. But the sad fact is animal trafficking and seizures of animal parts continue to grow annually.

What governments are doing…

Black_rhinoLaw enforcement does deter poachers, but there is no single answer to the problem. A number of strategies are needed, including armed patrols, community conservation/environmental education, captive breeding and translocation schemes.

In April, Kenya’s president put a torch to 105 tonnes of ivory worth $105 million on the black market, sending out a clear message to poachers and traders.[vi] Conservation efforts in India have actively increased rhino numbers after poaching peaked in 2013. It has fallen every year since[vii].

However, there have been setbacks too. A legal sale of ivory to China and Japan from elephants that had died of natural causes in Africa in 2008 backfired. There was a spike in poaching after the sale. There have been increases in rhino poaching year-on-year in South Africa too, from 2007 to 2014. 2015 saw the figure fall slightly from a record high of 1,215 to 1,175 and 317 suspected poachers were arrested, but it really is the tip of the iceberg[viii]. Unfortunately, in the battle against poachers, park rangers are often outgunned. More than 1,000 have been killed in the past decade.

What you can do…

All animals are vital in any habitat as they create balance in the ecosystem. Elephants, for example, open up forest land to create firebreaks and grasslands, and create water access for other animals by digging. They disperse seeds in their dung, which is also full of nutrients for plant growth. For these reasons, they are often called the ‘mega-gardeners of the forest’. If, like any species, elephants disappear, whole ecosystems get compromised, including our own, so it’s vital that we all take action to do what we can to prevent poaching.

Learning more about the problem at sites such as and is one thing, but you can also give up your time, fundraising at a local level. For those looking to make a much greater contribution, though, taking a year out from study or work and volunteering at one of the many anti-poaching or conservation schemes across Africa could be for you. Who knows? You could discover a new and rewarding career path while doing something really worthwhile for the planet we live in.



[iii] Orenstein, Ronald. 2013. Ivory, Horn and Blood: Behind the Elephant and Rhinoceros Poaching Crisis. Buffalo, New York: Firefly Books.






Mexican Gray Wolves Need More Help

This is a guest post from animal activist and advocate Barbara Troeger.

Mexican gray wolf recovery

The Mexican gray wolf reintroduction into the wild is the third and most recent such wolf introduction in the United States. Red wolves were introduced into North Carolina in 1987, from an initial set of 14 “founders”; they now number fewer than 45 in the wild. The Northern Rockies were repopulated with 54 wild gray wolves from Canada in 1995; there are now 1,704. (The gray wolf never left the Great Lakes.)

The Mexican gray wolf recovery program started in 1998, in the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area which comprises the Apache National Forest in Arizona, and the Gila National Forest in New Mexico. There were only 7 founders. There are now 97 wild and about 240 captive Mexican gray wolves, known as “lobos”.

From Wolf Conservation Center in South Salem, NY, a contributor of three lobos to the wild in recent years.

From Wolf Conservation Center in South Salem, NY, a contributor of three lobos to the wild in recent years.

The size of the Mexican wolf population has grown slowly since 1998 (chart below).  In order to expand their narrow genetic profile, the lobo needs to reproduce in the wild. The politics leading to a sharp decline in releases of new wolves during the Obama administration has limited the population and the gene pool.  Litter sizes are smaller and pup survival rates lower.          

          Fish and Wildlife Service statistics





















Population  at year end




















Initially Released




















Until last year, releases for newly introduced wolves were only allowed in Arizona’s Apache National Forest, where wolf packs have established themselves too close together, and grazing cattle cover over 75% of the land.  The Gila National Forest has large areas without livestock, but New Mexico blocked a plan for many new wolf introductions this April with a lawsuit. Two cross-fostered pups (a genetic strategy new for lobos) were allowed to settle there.

In sharp contrast to all other U.S. wolf populations, Mexican gray wolves are subject to a rule (which is in conflict with the nation’s wildlife laws) that allows them to be captured and returned to captivity if they pass beyond their designated boundaries. This has a devastating impact on the mortality of the removed wolf and the remaining disrupted pack.

Lobos also suffer the greatest in their interaction with grazing livestock. Yellowstone wolves have large areas to roam which are free of cattle.  Northern Rockies wolves, unlike lobos, have written rules that protect them from being killed or removed if they feed off a dead cow that was not killed by a wolf. In 2007 the American Society of Mammalogists condemned the Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to remove carcasses, due to the potential for unfair consequences for Mexican wolves.

The Center for Biological Diversity stated in 2013 that the overall removal/mortality rate for the Mexican wolves is an alarming and unsustainable 64%, primarily because of boundary issues and alleged cattle depredation.

Attitudes and the future

Americans are more favorably disposed to wildlife now than in 1978, a 2014 poll found. In particular, their positive feelings for eight traditionally stigmatized species went up, with wolves rising in popularity by 42%. Mexican wolves now have an approval rating of 69% in New Mexico and 72% in Arizona. Polls in those states taken 21 years ago show widespread, persistent support.

However the Fish and Wildlife Service has succumbed to the state governments’ negative stance on wolves in the new rule that went into effect in 2015. According to the best scientific evidence, the Mexican gray wolf needs to expand into the Grand Canyon region, northern New Mexico and southern Colorado, in order to survive. Instead, lobos were allotted a large region in southern New Mexico and Arizona, much of which is not suitable for them.

Also, the situations in which Mexican gray wolves can legally be killed have been widened. FWS personnel themselves killed 33 Mexican wolves through 2013. Illegal and USDA Wildlife Services killings together with legal killings are a serious extinction risk for Mexican wolves. Research has found that more killing opportunities does not show increased support for the Endangered Species Act.

To what extent are governmental bodies worsening America’s long enduring war on predators?

On the state level, fish and game departments are appointed by governors, and funded mostly by hunting, fishing and trapping licenses. This “sportsman’s” demographic is on the wane, while those watching and advocating for wildlife and the environment are on the rise. (They spend more money in the national parks.) In the growing new ethic, people want to preserve healthy wilderness, not kill wolves from helicopters so there are more elk to shoot.

On the federal level, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service kills many endangered wolves, and manages wolf  “harvests”, with the stated purpose that legally sanctioned killings reduce poaching. However a study in Wisconsin from 2001 to 2009 showed that after the government killed 43 endangered wolves, wolf tolerance decreased, and wolf poaching increased.  Conflict with grazing livestock may be the greatest source of Mexican gray wolf deaths, risking the species’ extinction. The many harmful impacts of grazing on dry western land are extremely costly to taxpayers and should be examined objectively.

Mexican gray wolves need greater help than they currently receive if we hope to restore them to this landscape. This can be accomplished, in part, by evaluating and revising the manner in which USDA’s Wildlife Services and USFWS determine wolves should be killed, and by increasing the locations and number of wolves released into them.

Conservationists Express Outrage That Entire Pack of Wolves, 12 Percent of State Population, to Be Killed for Preying on Livestock on Public Lands

Via the Center for Biological Diversity.

OLYMPIA, Wash.— The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has indicated it plans to kill the entire Profanity Peak wolf pack over conflicts with livestock on national forest lands in northern Ferry County. This is the second time in four years that an entire pack of endangered wolves has been slated for death due to the grazing of privately owned cattle on publicly owned lands. Washington currently has a confirmed population of 90 wolves, and killing the Profanity Peak pack, which consists of 11 known wolves, would result in the eradication of 12 percent of the state’s endangered wolf population.

We can’t keep placing wolves in harm’s way by repeatedly dumping livestock onto public lands with indefensible terrain, then killing the wolves when conflicts arise. These allotments should be retired by the U.S. Forest Service — or livestock losses should simply be expected, and wolves shouldn’t have to pay for it with their lives.” -Amaroq Weiss, Center for Biological Diversity 

At least two of the pack’s wolves, including the breeding female, have already been killed as part of this operation.

“Washington’s state wolf plan seeks to recover this endangered, majestic species, and by no stretch of the imagination can killing 12 percent of the state’s tiny population of 90 wolves be consistent with recovery,” said Amaroq Weiss, West Coast wolf organizer with the Center for Biological Diversity. “We can’t keep placing wolves in harm’s way by repeatedly dumping livestock onto public lands with indefensible terrain, then killing the wolves when conflicts arise. These allotments should be retired by the U.S. Forest Service — or livestock losses should simply be expected, and wolves shouldn’t have to pay for it with their lives.”

In 2012 another entire wolf pack, the Wedge pack, was the target of an agency kill order near where the Profanity Peak pack now ranges, for conflicts with livestock owned by one of the same ranchers as in this instance, on both public and private lands. Aiming to kill the entire pack, state officials succeeded in killing six of the pack’s eight members. If the Profanity Peak pack is eradicated, this will bring to 17 the number of state-protected endangered wolves killed on behalf of one of the two livestock operators grazing in the pack’s territory in the Colville National Forest.

“Cows grazing in thick forest and downed trees in the Colville National Forest are in an indefensible situation where preventative measures crafted with the help of the Washington State’s Wolf Advisory Group — a diverse group of stakeholders — have been ineffective,” said Tim Coleman, executive director for Kettle Range Conservation Group, which is a member of the WAG. “We believe the wildest areas of our national forests should be a place where wolves can roam free.”

Washington’s wolves were driven to extinction in the early 1900s by a government-sponsored eradication program on behalf of the livestock industry. Since the early 2000s, the animals have started to make a slow comeback by dispersing into Washington from neighboring Idaho and British Columbia. But wolf recovery is still in its infancy, with only an estimated 90 wolves at the end of 2015. In 2012 nearly the entire Wedge pack was killed over livestock conflicts that occurred partly on federal public land, and in 2014 the agency sought to kill members of the Huckleberry pack — and did kill the pack’s breeding female — over livestock conflicts that occurred partly on state-owned lands. The Profanity Peak pack, first confirmed as a pack in 2014, ranges across territory that includes multiple public lands grazing allotments in northern Ferry County. 

“Wolves are an integral part of the American landscape, including right here in eastern Washington, and were once hunted to the very brink of extinction,” said Mike Petersen, executive director of the Lands Council. “Now that wolves are returning, there need to be places they are safe, and the Kettle River range is one of those places.”

Under Washington’s wolf plan, livestock owners who have had wolf-caused losses are eligible for taxpayer-funded compensation, and, as is the case here, are eligible for double compensation when the livestock were grazing on areas of 100 or more acres. Taxpayers have also funded the radio collars placed on pack members to help the agency with the species’ recovery, which have now been used to locate and kill the pack’s members. This practice is commonly referred to as the use of “Judas wolves” because the collared wolves unknowingly betray the location of their family members, who are then killed.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

The Kettle Range Conservation Group seeks to defend wilderness, protect biodiversity and restore ecosystems of the Columbia River Basin.

The Lands Council preserves and revitalizes Inland Northwest forests, water and wildlife through advocacy, education, effective action and community engagement.

The Endangered Species Coalition is a national network of hundreds of organizations and more than 175,000 activists working to protect imperiled species.

Half a Million People Urge U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Not to Abandon Red Wolves

With Only 45 Remaining, Species Is One of World’s Most Endangered Mammals

WASHINGTON—A petition including nearly half a million signatures was delivered to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this week urging the agency to fulfill its legal duty under the Endangered Species Act to recover the critically endangered red wolf. To spur the agency to resume efforts to save a species now reduced to an estimated wild population of only 45, nearly 500,000 names were submitted in a petition drive organized the Animal Welfare Institute, Care2, the Center for Biological Diversity, Endangered Species Coalition and the Wildlands Network, and a couple local North Carolina high school students. The petition comes a little over a year after the Service officially announced it was suspending red wolf releases into the wild.  

It’s shameful how the Service has bowed to political pressure and deliberately undermined the success of its program to recover red wolves,” said Jamie Pang, endangered species campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The agency’s inaction is condemning this species to extinction.” 

Red wolves were declared extinct in the wild until a successful reintroduction program was established in North Carolina’s Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in 1987. By 2006, this program had enabled the population to expand to more than 130; since then the unique animals have received ample support from conservationists, the public and even private landowners who live within the red wolf recovery area.

“Until recently, the Service operated a successful red wolf recovery program with widespread public support for saving the wolves,” said Tara Zuardo, wildlife attorney with the Animal Welfare Institute. “However, without a valid reason, the agency has now turned its back on the species and, instead, is sitting  idly by as red wolf numbers plummet.”

“It’s simply jaw-dropping that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife is consciously deciding whether to issue a death sentence — knowingly allowing a wolf found only in the United States to go extinct. The red wolf has been one of our greatest wildlife success stories and could be again,” said Leda Huta, executive director of the Endangered Species Coalition. “It is a day I never thought I’d see.”

Following a lawsuit by nonprofit groups to limit coyote hunting–once a threat to the red wolf’s survival–the Service faced increased political pressure to curtail the recovery program. In 2014, the Service eliminated the program’s recovery coordinator position and in June 2015 it stopped the introduction of new red wolves into the wild. The agency also ended its coyote-sterilization program, which was helping to prevent hybrid animals from harming the red wolf’s gene pool, curtailed law-enforcement investigations of wolf deaths to help bring poachers to justice, and allowed for both the lethal and nonlethal removal of wolves from private lands, arguably causing the population to sink.

“The red wolf is now one of the world’s most endangered mammal species. There are 37 times as many giant pandas, 100 times as many snow leopards, and 400 times as many African lions in the wild as there are red wolves left in eastern North Carolina,” said Ron Sutherland, a conservation scientist at Wildlands Network. “We hope Fish and Wildlife Director Dan Ashe and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell will listen to the public and prevent the red wolf from going extinct in the wild again.”

“Hundreds of thousands of members of the Care2 community are speaking up for red wolves, demanding the howls of these amazing animals continue to sound through North Carolina. We hope our federal wildlife leaders hear this call and reverse course immediately,” said Aaron Viles, Senior Grassroots Organizer, with Care2.



The Animal Welfare Institute is a nonprofit charitable organization founded in 1951 to reduce animal suffering caused by people.  AWI engages policymakers, scientists, industry, and the public to achieve better treatment of animals everywhere—in the laboratory, on the farm, in commerce, at home, and in the wild.


Care2is a community of 36 million standing together for good. People are making world-changing impact with Care2, starting petitions and supporting each other’s campaigns to help individuals, animals and the environment. A pioneer of online advocacy since 1998, Care2 is a B Corporation, or social enterprise, using the power of business as a force for good.


The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.


The Endangered Species Coalition is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to stop the human-caused extinction of our nation’s at-risk species, to protect and restore their habitats, and to guide these fragile populations along the road to recovery. The Endangered Species Coalition works to safeguard and strengthen the Endangered Species Act, a law that enables every citizen to act on behalf of threatened and endangered wildlife—animals, fish, plants, and insects—and the wild places they call home.


Wildlands Network is a nonprofit organization that works to reconnect and rewild nature in North America. With offices in the United States and Mexico, Wildlands Network advocates for continental-scale wildlife corridors and for the recovery of top carnivores such as wolves and cougar.


If lead ammunition is bad for people and the environment, why do we still use it?

This post originally appeared at

By Andy McGlashen @AMcGlashen


Andrea Goodnight knows firsthand what lead poisoning looks like. A veterinarian at the Oakland Zoo, Goodnight treats endangered California condors when testing shows dangerous levels of the toxic metal in their blood.

If blood lead levels get too high, condors, eagles and other raptors “regurgitate everything and can’t hold anything down, so basically they’re starving to death,” Goodnight says. “A very clinically ill bird is very distressing. They’re weak, they fall over, they just can’t feed themselves at all and eventually they die. To me, it’s an absolutely horrible way to die.”

Treatment is usually enough to save the birds, but the experience is invasive and stressful for condors, she says. “And then they get poisoned again, and they go through it all again.”

Ammunition is the main source of lead that poisons condors. Lead’s availability, density and malleability have made it a cost-effective bullet material for centuries. But lead bullets can lose half of their mass on impact, leaving hundreds of tiny fragments both in the meat hunters take home and the entrails they leave behind, which are a food source for many wild creatures. Before California outlawed lead ammunition in its eight-county condor range in 2008, hunters there left behind more than 30,000 lead-tainted carcasses or “gut piles” each year, according to a 2003 study. A 2009 review of the scientific literature found more than 130 species of animals known to have been exposed to or killed by lead from ingesting it or eating lead-tainted meat.

Pointing to a growing body of research that links it to wildlife deaths and suggests it’s a threat to people who eat wild game, some scientists say it’s time to phase out lead ammunition in favor of non-toxic alternatives. But gun rights advocates have largely beaten back attempts to regulate lead by dismissing the science and stoking suspicions that what lead ammunition opponents have in their crosshairs is not lead, but hunting altogether.

Patchwork Regulation

Many hunters are voluntarily switching to lead-free ammunition, and others would do the same if they fully understood the risk to wildlife and to their own families, says Leland Brown, a non-lead hunting educator with the Oregon Zoo. But he says the hunting community as a whole often feels unfairly attacked by environmental groups and underappreciated for its conservation ethic.

“I really strongly think that, given the right information, they will move toward using non-lead ammunition,” he says. “It’s just not going to happen overnight.”

A U.S.-wide ban on hunting waterfowl with lead was instituted in 1991 after scientists estimated that 2 million waterfowl a year were dying from eating lead shot while scooping up food from the bottoms of lakes and streams or ingesting pebbles to grind food in their gizzards. In 2013 California approved a statewide ban on lead ammunition that began with certain types of hunting in 2015 and will apply to all hunting beginning July 1, 2019. Minnesota officials are considering a ban on small-game hunting with lead in some parts of the state, and 34 states in addition to California have regulations that go beyond the federal waterfowl ban. But in most states and for most types of hunting, lead remains the go-to material.

California Condor Credit USFWS

California Condor
Credit USFWS

The U.S. is not atypical in having a patchwork of lead regulations. Canada requires hunters to use non-lead shotgun pellets in wetlands and national wildlife areas and for hunting most migratory birds. Lead shot is outlawed in Denmark, the Netherlands and the Flemish region of Belgium. Several other European Union members have instituted or are considering bans on hunting waterfowl with lead, but the EU has no legislation restricting its use. Norway in 2005 adopted a nationwide ban on hunting with lead but its parliament in 2015 repealed the ban outside of wetlands, saying there was insufficient evidence to support it.

Lead poisoning causes brain damage and, in humans, is thought to be linked with lower IQ, poor school performance and violent behavior. Even the ancient Romans knew lead could cause cognitive damage and death.

“Indeed, we know more about the toxicity of lead than we do about almost any other contaminant,” says Myra Finkelstein, an environmental toxicologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz who studies lead’s effects on wildlife.

Finkelstein was among 30 scientists who signed a 2013 consensus statement citing “the overwhelming scientific evidence of the toxic effects of lead on human and wildlife health” and calling for “reducing and eventually eliminating the introduction of lead into the environment from lead-based ammunition.”

Science vs. Legislation

The emblematic animal victim of lead poisoning, the California condor, was brought back from the brink of extinction through a captive breeding program begun in the 1980s. There are now over 400 condors in California, Arizona and Mexico’s Baja California peninsula, with more than half of them wild and the rest in captivity. A 2012 study by Finkelstein and colleagues noted that, each year, one in five free-flying birds has blood lead levels high enough to require treatment; lead poisoning is responsible for more than half of condor deaths.

Finkelstein’s research showed that the regional lead ban in the condor range was ineffective in protecting the wide-ranging birds. The study found that “the prevalence of lead poisoning in California condors is of epidemic proportion” and used isotope “fingerprinting” to demonstrate that lead ammunition is the main source. The scientists concluded that only eliminating or substantially reducing lead poisoning rates could bring about a real recovery of condors.

“It’s a crazy situation where we can’t use our toxic substance law for exactly what it’s designed for.” –Jeff Miller

Environmentalists say the science is clear and have twice petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to regulate lead ammunition nationwide under the Toxic Substances Control Act. The EPA rejected the petitions, saying its hands are tied because of an exemption in TSCA for ammunition. When the groups sued EPA, federal district and appeals courts sided with the agency.

“It’s a crazy situation where we can’t use our toxic substance law for exactly what it’s designed for,” says Jeff Miller, conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups calling for federal regulation of lead ammo.

While Miller says the center will continue pursuing other avenues to bring about federal regulation, gun rights advocates appear to be winning the legislative battle over what they call “traditional” ammunition. The National Rifle Association has pushed bills that would block EPA from regulating lead ammunition under TSCA, and the group won a significant victory last year when President Barack Obama signed a defense bill that does just that. “I have to finally, actually acknowledge that, at least on that round, the NRA won,” says William Snape, senior counsel with the Center for Biological Diversity.

And Snape said he’s even more concerned about proposed language in a federal spending bill that would permanently block the agency from regulating lead ammunition and fishing tackle not only under TSCA, but any other law. “We’re very worried that some of this language could find its way into a deal,” he says.

Scare Tactic

The NRA did not respond to requests for comment on this story. Its lobbying arm has contended that “anti-lead ammunition advocates want to ban all lead ammunition both at ranges and in the field, and they want to ban all hunting,” but the Humane Society of the United States policy statement the NRA points to only targets certain types of hunting, including bear baiting, contest killing, and trophy hunting of rare and endangered animals.

“The NRA is the real obstruction,” says Miller, noting that his organization is not against hunting in general. “It’s just a fear-based argument that, unfortunately, I think they think is good for their organization.”

The National Shooting Sports Foundation, the trade association for the firearms industry, referred Ensia to an online statement that says the group “opposes efforts to ban or restrict the use of traditional ammunition containing lead components for use in hunting or shooting unless there is sound science conclusively establishing that the use of traditional ammunition is causing an adverse impact on a wildlife population, the environment or on the human health of those consuming game harvested with traditional ammunition, and that other reasonable measures, short of restricting or banning the product, cannot be undertaken to adequately address the concern.” The statement dismisses the scientific literature on lead’s dangers and calls attempts by wildlife advocates and “anti-hunting groups” to ban or restrict lead ammunition “scientifically unfounded and nothing more than a scare tactic to advance their political agenda.”

NSSF also claims that a 2008 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study of hunters and others in North Dakota who regularly eat wild game confirms there is no health risk from eating animals killed with lead, noting that none of the 736 participants had a blood lead level higher than the threshold at which the CDC recommends a health intervention.

The CDC has since cut in half the blood lead level at which it recommends a public health intervention to counteract lead poisoning, putting several study participants above today’s threshold. The agency warns there is no safe blood lead level in children.

But the group’s conclusion ignores the study’s broader finding that those who ate a lot of wild game tended to have higher blood lead levels than those who ate little or none, and the levels were higher the more recently the person had eaten wild game. NSSF reached and promoted a starkly different interpretation of the study than the North Dakota Department of Health, which reacted by issuing recommendations that pregnant women and children under six years old avoid eating venison shot with lead bullets.

Furthermore, the CDC has since cut in half the blood lead level at which it recommends a public health intervention to counteract lead poisoning, putting several study participants above today’s threshold. The agency warns there is no safe blood lead level in children.

The North Dakota study was prompted by independent research by a physician and hunter who found lead fragments in venison donated to food pantries. NSSF and other critics noted that the physician, William Cornatzer, sat on the board of directors of the Peregrine Fund, a leading group in efforts to protect condors from lead and other threats. But the findings — coming on the heels of a study that found lead in a quarter of venison samples from Minnesota food banks — convinced North Dakota officials to order the charities to throw out venison and only accept donations from bow hunters.

Price Point

Gun advocates are concerned that banning lead ammunition will leave many hunters unable to afford nontoxic alternatives, which are generally more expensive. But while overall hunting numbers have declined since California’s lead ban in the condor range began, the decrease reflects larger trends in hunting participation and appears unrelated to lead regulations, says Clark Blanchard, a spokesman for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. “Basically, the statewide hunter numbers have been declining slightly for the past decade,” Blanchard says. “However, it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the non-lead ammo regulations.”

While some lead-free ammunition costs twice as much as mass-market lead brands, non-lead bullets are comparable in price to premium lead ammunition, and can even be cheaper, according to the not-for-profit Institute for Wildlife Studies, which runs a website with information for hunters interested in switching to lead-free ammunition. The group says ammunition is typically among the smallest costs associated with hunting.

A 2013 study found little difference in price when comparing premium lead ammunition and nontoxic alternatives, and concluded that hunters who use lead-free options do not sacrifice performance. Even the NRA has praised the performance of copper bullets. And prices for non-lead bullets continue to fall. Federal Ammunition, for example, recently released a copper bullet under its budget Power Shok line, which Cabela’s sells in the popular .30-06 caliber for US$27.99 for a box of 20 rounds. Some Federal premium lead cartridges in the same caliber retail at US$24.99, while other premium lead bullets go for US$40.99 a box. Similarly, research has shown that — despite many hunters’ feelings to the contrary — nontoxic steel shotgun pellets are just as effective as lead shot at killing mourning doves, the nation’s most popular game bird. Prices vary, but Cabela’s sells 12-gauge Kent #6 steel shot for US$13.99 per box, while the same company’s premier lead shotgun shells in the same gauge and shot size range from US$12.99 to US$14.99.

Brown, from the Oregon Zoo, says non-lead bullets work better than lead bullets, because they cut deep into the animal’s body and bring it down quickly. He made the switch after learning how much lead bullets fragment on impact.

“I had fantastic success,” he says. “The few times since then when I’ve used lead ammunition, I’ve actually been less pleased. It didn’t do what I had gotten used to non-lead ammo doing, which was kill the animal quickly within 30 yards. I really don’t see any reason to use lead anymore.” View Ensia homepage

Editor’s note: Andy McGlashen is communications director for the Michigan Environmental Council, which has not done any work on the issue of lead in ammunition, though addressing other lead hazards is a priority of its work.

Attacks on Endangered Species Act Hiding Behind Bad Attitudes and Bad Science

Wolves in the Western Great Lakes remain under Endangered Species Act (ESA) protection following a federal court decision in December 2014. Judge Howell criticized the states for inadequate regulatory mechanisms. The court ruled the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service failed to address the impact of combined mortality such as disease and human killing.

Prior to this ruling, more than 1,500 wolves have been killed through recreational hunting and trapping resulting in a substantial reduction in wolf populations. This added human-caused mortality constitutes a threat to the species. 

wolfphtoDespite the known threats to wolves, the State, along with proponents of killing wolves are again calling for delisting wolves. Their reasons are not supported by the best scientific evidence. There is no call to improve federal agency science that caused wolves to be relisted by the above-mentioned lawsuit. There is no call to ensure stakeholders, such as non-consumptive users, be represented in DNR and federal wildlife agencies. The argument that wolves take funding from other species, even given the possibility that keystone species protect a wide variety of other animals, seems to be a held belief amongst scientists within these agencies, some university scientists funded by agencies, and even those in wolf education. Where is the call to increase funding for all species at risk? Nothing’s changed. They present no new evidence and they make the same tired and unsupported claims. Those trumpeting delisting would be wise to fix the problems the judge identified. If not litigation will resume and that’s what the U.S. Constitution had in mind when it established separation of powers.

In a summit scheduled for September of 2016, State of Wisconsin officials and GOP politicians, known for their endorsement of trophy hunting and opening public lands to free-running hounds, will try to advance their argument for delisting wolves. It is also worth noting the State of Wisconsin does, in fact, manage wolves under endangered status, and USDA’s Wildlife Services in conjunction with the DNR is implementing a wide array of non-lethal farming practices that work. We commend them for this success.

However, some claim culling wolves is necessary to protect livestock and pets. Evidence suggests that harvesting wolves as a means to manage depredations is unscientifically sound (Vucetich et al). An additional study forthcoming from University of Wisconsin  indicates culling and hunting have lousy track records for preventing livestock losses and have increased them in at least three regions.

Some claim culling wolves will prevent poaching. Last month, Guillaume Chapron, PhD and Adrian Treves, PhD released a new study suggesting the opposite. They found that the wolf population growth slowed when the state had authority to cull wolves, independent of how many wolves were culled. The scientists inferred that poaching increased when the state had power to kill wolves. This evidence is consistent with the findings on inclination to poach wolves.

The States have no scientific justification for management flexibility. Instead they seem to want that flexibility to kill more wolves for trophies, improve attitudes towards the agency and to appease donors & special interest groups. Wolves would once again be killed statewide using unscientific and unethical practices.  These include hunting into breeding season, trapping in areas of prime habitat and the use of hounds throughout Wisconsin. The WI DNR does not refute information about dogs being killed but with their state managed wolf hunt, dogs will be used, which is dog fighting.

Delisting decisions should be based solely on the best scientific evidence and without commercial private interests or politicians using fear and false data to get votes. Some Federal legislators are calling for wolf delisting by attacking the ESA, which is the most popular environmental law in the nation.  We call on you to ask your Representatives, on all levels, to uphold democracy, transparency and science-based policy because current proposals and policies lack all.

Celebrate Endangered Species Day

Today is the 11th annual Endangered Species Day! The U.S. Senate helped to start this day of celebration of conservation and service for species by passing a resolution in 2006 marking the day. In the years that have followed, local governments have passed similar resolutions and Endangered Species Day has become an opportunity for both committed activists to engage in actions that protect our vanishing wildlife and for others to learn more about the importance of protecting imperiled species and ways that they can help to achieve this. 


Endangered Species Day events are being held around the country today and through the weekend. You can find an event near you through our Endangered Species Day event directory. If there are no events near you, you can still take action for Endangered Species Day.

Actions like planting milkweed, building a bat house, or giving up meat for a day are ways that you can make a difference for imperiled wildlife on Endangered Species Day. You can take action online to protect grizzly bears, monarch butterflies, red wolves, and other species with our friends at or share these 10 ways to protect endangered species

You can find more ways to be a part of the day at Whatever you do, please leave a pin on our map to tell us that you were a part of Endangered Species Day! If you tweet, please use the hashtag #EndangeredSpeciesDay and mention us @endangered to tell us how you are taking part, and we will retweet as possible. 

Thank you for being a part of our community and have a great Endangered Species Day!

Winners Announced in 2016 Saving Endangered Species Youth Art Contest!

Winning entries were announced in the 2016 Saving Endangered Species Youth Art Contest. The entires were chosen from more than one thousand submissions from very talented young artists around the country. The art submissions represent either land or ocean dwelling species that lives in or migrates through the United States and its waters, or a plant that is found in the United States, and has been placed on the threatened or endangered species list.

The Grand Prize winning entry is from Miles Yun who will be coming to Washington, D.C. soon to accept his award! 

The Grade Category Winners are:

K-2 Grade Category Winner: Rachel Yang

3-5 Grade Category Winner: Sophia Xie

6-8 Grade Category Winner: Katrina Sharonin

9-12 Grade Category Winner: Elizabeth Kiernicki

You can view all of the semi-finalist entries here. Thank you to everyone who participated!

Take action for Endangered Species Day

manateeesdayThe 11th annual Endangered Species Day is coming up in weeks. On Friday, May 20th, events will be held around the country to celebrate successes in protecting imperiled species and to engage in service to keep up the fight.

You can find events near you at Events are registered frequently as May 20th approaches, so check back if you don’t see something. Or, download the toolkit and organize your own event!

If you are not attending an event, you can still make a difference. Pledge to make a change on Endangered Species Day to benefit vanishing wildlife. Here are a few ways you can take action:

Give up meat for 24 hours. The global demand for meat is creating a world of problems. Water pollution, habitat loss, climate change and wildlife conflicts are all problems that can begin to be addressed by taking meat off your plate. 

Walk, bike, or take public transit to school or work: Small steps can make a difference! Pledge to leave the car at home and find alternative ways to get to work or school. Lowering your carbon footprint is a step towards addressing climate change and using less fossil fuels reduces the threats posed to endangered and threatened species in their production and transport.

Make conscious consumption a priority: Pay attention to what you buy for 24 hours. Is it sustainable? Keep a log of your impact for the day! Does the snack food you bought contain palm oil? Were pesticides used in growing the fruits and produce on your plate? Being aware is the first step in making change.

Sign up here to pledge to take Endangered Species Day action and we will remind you as we get closer to the date and give you helpful information to make sure you succeed.

However you support, we hope you can be a part of Endangered Species Day!