The Arizona Game and Fish Department filed a motion on Tuesday to intervene in a lawsuit filed by the Sierra Club, Grand Canyon Wildlands Council, and the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) that contends the U.S. Forest Service is acting illegally by allowing hunters in Arizona’s Kaibab National Forest to use traditional lead-based ammunition.
The NRA and Safari Club International (SCI) have also filed to intervene in this lawsuit. The NRA has devoted resources to deconstruct the faulty “science” relied on by those anti-hunting groups seeking to ban the use of lead-based ammunition, and NRA and SCI have assembled a legal team that is well versed in environmental litigation to fight this attack on hunters’ rights.
The plaintiffs want the U.S. Forest Service to place a mandatory ban on hunting with lead ammunition in northern Arizona. However, the Arizona Game and Fish Department said on Tuesday that the authority to govern hunting regulations rests only with the state.
Citing a recent study by the University of California-Davis that concluded condor mortality has not been significantly reduced in California’s condor range despite a 2008 ban on lead ammunition, the department said it believes that voluntary, cooperative efforts to reduce lead available to condors is the best approach for long-term success of the condor program in Arizona.
The department also warned that a mandatory ban could create a backlash against condor conservation and hinder future endangered species’ reintroductions if the original condor reintroduction agreements are changed by court order.
“A lead ammunition ban in Arizona is not the answer,” said Larry Voyles, Director of the Arizona Game and Fish Department. “We’ve grown accustomed to seeing these litigious groups in the courtrooms, yet seldom are they seen in the trenches and almost never with the dirt of hard conservation work under their fingernails. These groups have ignored the absolutely critical role that cooperation and on-the-ground involvement play in a successful wildlife conservation program. A court-forced ban could result in important condor conservation partners withdrawing from the reintroduction effort.”
When California condors were reintroduced into Arizona in 1996, a special provision of the Endangered Species Act (ESA)—the 10(j) rule—and an agreement between a coalition of counties and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was used by the Service to obtain acceptance among communities in Arizona and Utah that had strongly opposed the reintroduction. This rule classifies the Arizona-Utah condor population as experimental and not essential to the species’ survival. The 10(j) rule offered assurances that “current and future land…uses…shall not be restricted due to…condors” and that the federal government did “not intend to” modify or restrict “current hunting regulations anywhere…in the experimental population area.”
An agreement with the effected local counties commits to removal of condors if the status of the condor under ESA is changed. If this lawsuit is successful, Arizona Game and Fish said it will force the federal government to renege on the local commitments it made and jeopardize future support for condors and other reintroduction programs.
“This reckless litigation risks future species’ reintroductions as well as the destruction of good will with, and hard work by, hunters and other cooperators,” Voyles said.
After dropping to only 22 individuals in the world in the 1980s, there are currently approximately 78 condors in northern Arizona and southern Utah and more than 400 in the world.
“It is not too late for these groups to withdraw their lawsuit and join us as cooperators, putting their resources towards on-the-ground conservation that can make a difference for condors,” said Voyles.
NRA has fought off attempts from CBD and other groups to ban lead ammunition before. Most recently NRA filed to intervene in another lawsuit brought by the CBD trying to force the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate lead ammunition under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA)—despite that fact that the EPA has said it does not have the legal authority under the TSCA to ban or regulate ammunition.
Motions filed by NRA and SCI to dismiss CBD’s lawsuit against the EPA are pending.