July 4, 2008

Steve Merlo: Unfair Lead Ban Not Enough to Save California’s Condors

By The Bakersfield Californian

Jul. 4--A lot of conservationists know exactly how I feel about the uncertainty over of the future of the California condor. Despite the fact that I am also a hunter, I too, am a conservationist, and hopefully, my writings have shown that I do care about our wildlife, their management and habitat restoration, as well as our own environment.

The vast majority of other hunters also feel the way I do, and we consider ourselves the keepers of everyone else's wildlife. Without our time, dollars and wildlife management ethics, there would be very little wild animals and birds left for anyone else to appreciate.

I am in favor of the continuation of the Rare and Endangered Species Act and what is has done for hundreds of species that would have otherwise passed into extinction. I am proud that I have spent lots of my money donating to those special organizations that do the job sportsmen ask them to do -- promote habitat restoration and management for all animal species.

So, with that said...

The California condor programs in effect, like the salmon programs along our coast, have all been miserable failures and a huge waste of money. Millions and millions of dollars have been spent trying to save the last few condors from certain annihilation from the vast wilderness they once owned. While some programs have been marginally successful, the huge birds cannot fare well without human intervention, and that seals their fate. Sure, they rate human compassion and concern, but all the tea in the Orient isn't going to bring them back, and here's why: The bird does not fare well around humanity. Misplaced power poles electrocute them, antifreeze spills kill them, lead in carcasses poisons them and irresponsible bullets blow them away. There are just too many people concentrated into southern and central California to allow the birds the secular privacy, freedom and independence they need to continue living and propagating in our era.

I also believe the inception of new "no lead bullet" laws trying to save another dinosaur from extinction are ludicrous, nonsensical and without merit. Yes, the occasional lead-bullet- related death of a condor grimly flies against the grain of every true conservationist. But, rather than irresponsibly pointing a finger at just a single issue, in this case lead bullets, how about if all conservationists take a look around and face all of the challenges before them?

Tejon Ranch, for instance, plans to build 4,000 new homes in the right in the middle of condor country. Included in those plans are stringent condor management principals designed to not interfere with the giant birds' activities. O.K., that sounds good, but what about all the telephone and power poles sure to be erected and the thousands of automobiles running around the area? What about the heavy influx of human activity sure to inundate the ranch? How will all that impact the condor?

I'm not trying to pick on Tejon. There are literally thousands of new homes going up across other "traditional condor areas" as stipulated in the no-lead-bullet laws, yet I haven't heard a single peep from any so-called conservationists regarding more human intrusion into the same areas. Either they ignore them altogether or simply have it out for hunters and gun owners, which sometimes seems the case.

I say let's give the big birds one more chance to overcome the impossible. Let's all gather around the banner and all fight together to save this prehistoric survivor, without blaming any single entity.

We hunters have already done our part. My own big-game bullets, for instance, are now loaded with copper, non-lead projectiles, as the law demands. I don't even own a .22 rimfire any more, which is also illegal in the zones. Almost all of my hunting friends and acquaintances have also followed suit, so now, what are the rest of you so-called conservationists going to do? Get rid of power poles? How about automobiles? Frankly, I don't think any of you will even lift a finger, and in an eerie way, maybe you shouldn't. Let the condor soar gracefully back into zoos or altogether into extinction, but work doubly hard trying to save the next creature destined for the history books.

Opinions expressed in this column are those of Steve Merlo, not The Bakersfield Californian. His column appears on Fridays.


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