Most well-informed citizens are aware of the massive honeybee die-offs (threatening our food supply); and they should be aware of Dow Chemical pesticide’s linkage to the vanishing milkweed (which monarch butterflies need to be sustainable). Hopefully, there is an emerging understanding of the science behind climate change and, among its other alarming threats, how melting ice floes in the Arctic cause polar bears to face premature mortality.
Add to that short list the four-year drought and water crisis, dying pines, oil spills that muck up beaches and harm wildlife, California Condors being poisoned by lead, and political/corporate corruption — including the alleged barefaced bribery by higher-ups in international soccer’s governing body, FIFA.
Let’s not overlook the profound threat to democracy created by the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative majority vote (5-4) on the Citizens United case, which allows millions in murky money to flow like a tsunami into political campaigns with absolutely no accountability as to who provided the cash or why. Pundits appropriately call it “dark money,” and it has created a dark cloud over what was once a truly democratic society.
These are a few of the environmental and social challenges facing California and the U.S. But, sadly, in most cases mentioned above, we are helpless bystanders, seemingly powerless to make the necessary changes.
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Californians can, however, lend a hand to prevail over at least two of the above-mentioned issues. We can learn to become pathological tightwads when it comes to water use, and we can urge friends and neighbors who hunt to use copper bullets.
Speaking of hunting, there is a law on the books requiring hunters to use copper bullets in designated areas where condors are recovering. But the law that bans the use of lead ammunition statewide won’t be enforced until 2019.
What conservation-minded folks can do is spread the truth that copper bullets are as accurate as lead ammunition and are about the same price. Getting the word out is crucial to the survival of these incredible birds, the largest land birds in North America. Humans were largely responsible for their near-extinction, and it should be human stewardship that helps them return in worthy numbers.
That noted, it comes as no surprise that the leading gun advocacy group, the National Rifle Association, issues vigorous denials vis-à-vis the threat lead poses to the condor. In an NRA-linked website, “Hunt for Truth,” condor advocates are called “anti-hunting activists pushing their extremist agenda against lead ammunition … and [against] hunting.”
No wildlife enthusiast I know or have talked to has indicated a distain for legitimate hunting, so the rhetoric is simply intellectual gibberish that is part of the gun lobby’s paranoid delusion that somehow the government is trying to take their guns away.
Condors were very close to extinction when the last 27 birds were captured and taken into captivity in 1987 to become part of a captive breeding program. Thousands upon thousands of condors once filled the skies up and down the West Coast, but they were nearly wiped out as a species. They were shot, poisoned, killed by electric power lines and suffered a severe loss of habitat.
The Good News: Condors in SLO County
By Labor Day, or perhaps before, North Coast residents are likely to spot a colossal bird or two soaring very high in the baby blue skies and casting startlingly imposing shadows on the landscape.
These birds won’t be turkey vultures (they have 6-foot wingspans) but they are in the same biological family (Cathartidae); and like turkey vultures, they are scavengers that dine on carrion.
They are California Condors, with wingspans of 91⁄2 feet. And if everything goes as planned with their introduction to the Santa Lucia Mountains east of San Simeon in July and August, all seven of the newly introduced juvenile condors will eventually make San Luis Obispo County their permanent home.
The Ventana Wildlife Society, a pivotal part of the California Condor Recovery program, is launching this expansion to the flock of 70 condors flying free in Big Sur and Pinnacles. The lead VWS biologist, Joe Burnett, explains that when the time comes to nest, the seven birds will likely raise their young here in our county, where they were first released.
Last month, the Cambrian published a story about the expected arrival of these condors (humorously called “the magnificent seven”), but there are supplementary facts about this project that should be presented.
Because they are young and inexperienced — they were raised in isolation — they will “make mistakes” and “take their lumps,” Burnett said May 15 in Cambria. They may land on rooftops in Cambria, or otherwise show up in tall trees in town or in other unexpected places along the North Coast.
Certainly, as they mature, their instincts (and extraordinary eyesight) will lead them to feast on whales and other dead marine mammals that wash up along the coastline. But in the meantime, they will have the opportunity feed on the carcasses of stillborn calves that VWS provides.
“Starting here in the San Simeon area all the way up to just south of Carmel, we just randomly put bait out at different sites — the birds never know which one,” Burnett said.
This keeps the birds moving up and down the coast rather than flying too far inland, where carrion often contains lead from hunters’ ammunition that, as mentioned earlier, is poisonous to condors.
We may not be able to deter the drought, help the polar bears find more ice, stop the Supreme Court from making democracy-killing rulings, keep the bees and butterflies safe from harm, or prevent oil spills and political and social corruption. But we can become stalwart stewards of our dwindling water supply, and we can welcome the seven juvenile condors to our county while encouraging our hunting friends to keep condors safe by swapping lead ammo for copper.
Drawing for copper
Hunters can enter the Non-lead Ammunition Drawing for high-performance ammunition by visiting www.ventanaws.org and completing the online form. A free box of copper bullets is awarded to one person each month.
Applicants must be at least 18 years of age, must reside within the 18 counties that are included in the California Condor range (including San Luis Obispo County) and should indicate what caliber and what type of ammunition (factory loaded or projectiles for hand loading) they use.