The plaintiffs -- made up of the Nature Resources Defense Council, Physicians for Social Responsibility, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Wishtoyo Foundation -- say that the condors are poisoned when they feed on carcasses of animals killed with lead bullets or buckshot. They add that this problem also extends to golden and bald eagles.
"It's about all of us working together for the sake of the environment," said Mati Waiya, executive director of the Wishtoyo Foundation, a Native American organization. "Condors have been around for 10,000 years, as have the Chumash people. As a ceremonial leader, I have a sacred obligation to protect them."
"This is not an anti-hunting lawsuit," said James M. Birkelund, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. "It's about protecting the condors and working with hunters to find a common-sense solution."
According to California Department of Fish and Game spokesperson Steve Martarana, the lawsuit comes just months before the agency was set to review hunting regulations in the spring, and lead ammunition is to be one of the subjects discussed Thursday at a Fish and Game Commission meeting at the Santa Monica Public Library.
"There's going to be plenty of public input that goes into these new regulations," Martarano said. "We've urged hunters for a long time to 'get the lead out' whenever possible."
Steve Williams, president of the Wildlife Management Institute in Washington, D.C., said his group has promoted voluntary lowering of lead use in Arizona and California, and encourages hunters to take dead wildlife from hunting grounds or bury remains of animals killed by lead ammunition.
Lead is known to cause brain damage, kidney disease, high blood pressure, reproductive system problems and neurological disorders when ingested. Hunters can turn to higher-priced copper, steel or titanium bullets, but Williams pointed out that little study has been done on the safety of these ammunitions.
"Hunters need to realize that when they use lead bullets, they're placing an extremely toxic heavy metal directly into the environment where it will impact the health of numerous animals," said Mike Adams, a proponent of environmental protection. "Hunters need to be mindful of their impact on the environment and take steps to support the very ecosystem in which they hope to hunt again in the future."
Fish and Game Commission Vice President Bob Hattoy -- the only commissioner who supported a 2005 petition to immediately ban lead ammunition -- said it made sense to get lead out of condor habitats, since the state and federal government spent more than $40 million on captive breeding programs during the last few years to grow the population from 22 to roughly 300.
"Lead is killing the condors," said Hattoy. "Lead is also poisoning hunters, their families and those who eat their kill, and it is killing Native Americans who live off the land."