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Good news in the condor recovery effort?

A California condor in flight.

A California condor in flight.

Wildlife officials say a voluntary program to reduce the use of lead hunting ammunition is paying off

Staff Report

FRISCO — There may be some good news in the long-running effort to recover California condor populations from the edge of extinction. Federal biologists say the number of condors treated for lead poisoning dropped dramatically in the past year, as more and more hunters replace their traditional ammunition with a non-lead version

Since condors eat only carrion, they’ve often been exposed to fragments of lead ammo left in the carcasses of killed animals. But an extensive outreach effort by the interagency recovery team may have shifted the tide. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 13 condors were treated for lead exposure between Sept. 1, 2013 and Aug. 31, 2014, down from 28 birds the previous year and from the five-year average of 26.

Condors are the largest land-based birds in North America, with a wingspan of up to 9.5 feet. They once ranged from coast to coast and north to south from Canada to Mexico. By 1982, only 23 condors remained. In 1987, all remaining wild condors were placed into a captive breeding program.

Since 1992, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) began reintroducing captive-bred condors to the wild, the USFWS and its public and private partners have grown the population to 410 birds. In 2008, the Recovery Program reached an important milestone, with more California condors flying free in the wild than in captivity for the first time since the program began.

Biologists have identified lead exposure as one of the biggest challenges for continued recovery, so for the past few years, they’ve focused on winning voluntary cooperation from hunters.

The drop in lead exposure cases was greeted with cautious optimism.
“This is potentially exciting news,” says Chris Parish, project director with The Peregrine Fund. “We’re hopeful that the decreased measurements of lead exposure are a direct result of the hunters’ actions. With continued effort, we may well see a continuing trend of lower lead levels in coming years.”

“When they eat an animal that died after being wounded by a gunshot, or they eat the entrails left in the field after a hunter has cleaned an animal he or she has harvested, they ingest lead fragments. If hunters use non-lead ammunition, the threat of lead exposure is non-existent,” said Keith Day, a regional wildlife biologist with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

To help the birds, the UDWR and the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AGFD) have asked hunters in southern Utah and northern Arizona to use non-lead ammunition. To offset the cost and encourage participation, both agencies have voluntary programs that provide hunters in those areas with a free box of non-lead bullets.

The voluntary response from hunters has been impressive, according to state wildlife officials,

“We’ve operated a lead reduction program in Arizona since 2005,” said Allen Zufelt, condor recovery biologist for the AGFD. “Over the past seven years, more than 80 percent of our hunters have chosen to use non-lead ammunition annually in support of the condor program. Many others have removed entrails, which might have lead fragments in them, from the field after a successful hunt.”

Utah’s non-lead program started in 2010. Having a comparable program in Utah may have tipped the scale in favor of the condors.

Day said 55 percent of those who hunted in the Zion hunting unit (where Utah’s non-lead program is focused) in 2013 used non-lead ammunition or removed entrails from the field if they used lead bullets.

“We anticipate that the number of hunters who participate in the program on the Zion unit will continue to grow,” he says.

Utah hunters can learn more about the state’s lead reduction program—including prizes they can win for participating—at http://wildlife.utah.gov/condors/drawing_2014.pdf.

“Hats off to hunters in both states,” says Greg Sheehan, director of the UDWR. “We’re asking hunters to change a tradition and try something different for the sake of conservation. And they’re stepping to the plate. This type of cooperation is what makes successful wildlife management happen.”

Day and Zufelt say voluntary non-lead programs will continue in Utah and Arizona this fall.

The California condor recovery effort in Utah and Arizona is a cooperative program among federal, state and private partners. Those partners include The Peregrine Fund, the Arizona Game and Fish Department, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Arizona Strip Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management, Grand Canyon and Zion national parks, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, and the Kaibab and Dixie national forests.

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Climate: Utah tree-ring study shows severity of historic megadroughts

Luminosity.

Old Douglas firs can help reveal historic climate cycles.

Recent dry spells not so bad compared to past centuries

Staff Report

FRISCO — A tree-ring reconstruction of Utah’s climate going back to 1429 shows that the state has experienced several mega-droughts in past centuries that would be life-changing if they happen again, according to Brigham Young University professor Matthew Bekker.

The worst drought of the modern era, the 1930s Dust Bowl, barely ranks on the top 10 list of droughts in that 500-year span,” Bekker said. The findings reinforce similar studies for the Colorado River Basin. Continue reading

Federal judge slams BLM for Utah ORV plan

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Some of the most spectacular landscapes in the Southwest will get a reprieve from the impacts of motorized use, as a federal court rejected an ill-conceived BLM management plan in eastern Utah. bberwynphoto.

Court ruling repudiates Bush-era policies that favored exploitation over preservation

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A federal court this week rejected a bush-era land management plan in Utah, requiring the Bureau of Land Management to go back and consider the destructive impacts of motorized use in some of the state most cherished wild areas.

The Richfield-area resource management plan had designated more than 4,200 miles of dirt roads and trails, enough miles to drive from Atlanta to Anchorage, for ORV vehicle use despite evidence of environmental damage and conflicts with other public lands visitors.  

According to environmental groups, the plan prioritized motorized recreation, threatening world-famous southern Utah wilderness landscapes like the Dirty Devil Canyon complex (including Butch Cassidy’s infamous hideout, Robber’s Roost), the Henry Mountains (the last mountain range to be mapped in the lower 48 states) and Factory Butte. Continue reading

Fossil fuel drilling fingered in Uinta Basin ozone formation

Better pollution control technology needed to cut VOC emissions

Monitoring sites in the Uinta Basin.

Monitoring sites in the Uinta Basin.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Ongoing studies of winter ozone formation in the Uinta Basin shows the need for better pollution control technology on oil and gas drilling rigs and other equipment used for fossil fuel development.

An emissions inventory developed for the study found that oil and gas operations are responsible for 98-99 percent of the volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and for 57-61 percent of the nitrogen oxide emissions. VOCs and nitrogen compounds are the key ingredients for ozone-laced smog, which has been clearly identified as a human health threat. Continue reading

Court rejects energy industry challenge to oil lease withdrawals on western public land

Contested oil and gas plays at issue in federal appeals court

A federal court this week ruled on the disposition of several disputed oil leases in the spectacular canyon country of the Southwest.

A federal court this week ruled on the disposition of several disputed oil leases in the spectacular canyon country of the Southwest. Bob Berwyn photo.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A federal court this week confirmed that the  energy industry missed its legal window to contest a U.S. Department of Interior decision to withdraw 77 oil and gas leases in Utah. Some of the tracts were in the vicinity of Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, and Dinosaur National Monument — too close for comfort, according to conservation groups, who convinced the incoming Obama administration to withdraw the leases.

The leases had originally been auctioned off ain the waning days of the Bush administration, in a move widely characterized as a parting gift from Bush-era officials to the energy industry. Interior Secretary Ken scrapped the leases because BLM skimped on its environmental analysis and failed to adequately consult with the National Park Service.

In September 2012, the 10th Circuit ruled that the energy industry missed its 90-day window to challenge Sec. Salazar’s decision under the Mineral Leasing Act. Today the Court rejected industry’s request to have the full Court revisit that decision.  Continue reading

Utah ‘phantom road’ claim gets appeals court hearing

The State of Utah and San Juan County are claiming that the stream bed of Salt Creek is a highway under a repealed federal law that was passed to enable settlement of the West. Photo courtesy Ted Zukoski. Click on the image to view a slideshow of Salt Creek.

Ecologically sensitive stream in Canyonlands National Park at issue in long-running battle over local rights-of-way claims

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — A long-running battle over the interpretation of an obscure federal law may move one step closer to resolution this week, as the federal Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals hears oral arguments in a case addressing state claims to a highway right-of-way in Salt Creek, an ecologically sensitive streambed in Canyonlands National Park.

The National Park Service closed the stream bed to vehicles in 2005, citing damage to natural resources, including crushed vegetation, water pollution and degradation of wildlife habitat. San Juan County and the State of Utah sued the Park Service, arguing that the Park could not close the streambed to jeeps because it was a county and state highway, based on a settlement-era law known as R.S. 2477. Continue reading

Biodiversity: Lead poisoning still plagues condor recovery

A tagged California condor in flight.

Failure to reduce lead exposure may lead to end of condor restoration effort in Arizona And Utah

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Government conservation biologists say California condors are slowly recovering in Utah and Arizona, with more breeding pairs and consistent use of seasonal ranges — but exposure to lead contamination associated with big game hunting  continues to be a major challenge.

The goal of the California Condor Recovery Plan is to establish two geographically separate, self-sustaining populations – a primary population in California and the other outside of California, each with 150 birds and at least 15 breeding pairs.

But the partner agencies will seriously consider withdrawing support for condor reintroduction efforts in the Southwest if, by the end of 2016, a reduction of extreme lead exposures (blood lead levels) is not achieved and a declining trend in diagnosed lead related mortality and morbidity is not observed. Continue reading

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