Press Releases

Washington, D.C. ­– U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) today sent the following letter to California Governor Jerry Brown urging him to veto Assembly Bill 711, a compulsory statewide ban on lead ammunition, which will complicate the 30-year effort to reintroduce California condors into the wild.

The letter is below and attached.


September 20, 2013


The Honorable Jerry Brown


State of California

State Capitol, Suite 1173

Sacramento, CA 95814


Dear Governor Brown:

I am writing regarding our mutual interest in protecting the endangered California condor. I believe that legislation recently passed by the California State Legislature will complicate the 30-year effort to reintroduce condors into the wild and respectfully encourage you to veto Assembly Bill 711 (AB 711).

I commend the members of your state legislature who care about the California condor. I personally have taken an active interest in this matter since I began my service in the United States Senate. It is one of the rarest bird species in the world having disappeared from the wild in 1986. The condor’s impressive 9.5-ft wingspan is the largest in North America and, with a 60-year lifespan, it’s been a western icon for generations stretching back to indigenous Native American cultures. Today, there are only about 400 condors in the world. 

In my view, a growing body of scientific research suggests that the condor population is declining in part due to the ingestion of lead bullet fragments in hunter-killed carcasses or “gut-piles.” Federal and state wildlife experts conclude that about half of condor mortalities are tied to lead exposure; only predation is the next highest cause of death. If it weren’t for intensive recovery efforts involving the routine GPS tracking, capture, testing, and treatment of condors for lead poisoning using chelation therapy, this endangered species would be in far worse shape. 

We must address lead exposure in condors but I strenuously disagree with a compulsory statewide ban on lead ammunition. AB 711 is opposed by a multitude of sportsmen’s groups, and even some conservation groups leading the condor recovery effort question whether it will yield demonstrable benefits to the condors. First, there’s already a ban on lead ammunition in California where condors are known to nest, yet studies by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service indicate about 30 percent of your state’s condor population is still physiologically impacted by lead toxicity. Second, the cost of non-lead sporting ammunition can be many times more expensive than lead ammunition. Without an affordable supply of non-lead ammunition, hunters and shooting sport enthusiasts will be unfairly punished regardless if they’ve ever set foot in condor areas. 

By signing AB 711, you are alienating the hunting community whom I view as the most influential asset in achieving our condor recovery goals. For example, wildlife officials in the State of Arizona have cultivated the cooperation of hunters by implementing an increasingly effective outreach program that promotes the voluntary use of non-lead ammunition and educates hunters about practicing “lead-reducing activities” inside condor territory. Every year the Arizona Game and Fish Department contacts over 7,000 hunters about the dangers of lead poising in condors and markets a coupon program to incentivize the purchase of non-lead ammunition. Hunters using traditional ammunition are encouraged to remove gut piles from the wild or take head or neck shots in game. 

Using these and other educational initiatives, the Arizona Game and Fish Department reports a 90 percent participation rate among hunters who employ lead reduction actions in Arizona’s condor rage. This voluntary approach has received high praise from key condor partners like the Peregrine Fund and the American Bird Conservancy. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports that Arizona’s program could reduce condor mortality due to lead toxicity to manageable levels in the Southwest. I’ve even received word from the National Rifle Association that they support Arizona’s efforts to distribute non-lead ammunition to hunters in designated condor areas. 

A variety of government agencies and organization in our respective states are partners in protecting the California condor. I would encourage you to examine the successful voluntary program used in Arizona. Similarly, the Utah Division of Wildlife has recently launched its own lead reduction program based on the Arizona model. I ask you to veto AB 711 in favor of developing programs that promote the voluntary use of non-lead sporting ammunition and lead-reducing activities among hunters. In my state this is a popular and proven method for addressing lead exposure in condors that avoids the need for a draconian ban on lead ammunition. I believe this is the best way to ensure the survival of the California condor for the enjoyment of future generations.

Thank you for your consideration.     




John McCain

United States Senator