Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, May 30, 2019


Lori Ann Burd, Center for Biological Diversity, (971) 717-6405,
Allison LaPlante, Earthrise Law Center, (503) 768-6894 (office), (503) 351-1326 (mobile),

Federal Appeals Court Allows Lawsuit Challenging Lead Ammo Use in Arizona's Kaibab National Forest

TUCSON, Ariz.— Ruling in favor of conservation groups, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit today allowed a lawsuit to move forward challenging the use of lead ammunition in Arizona’s Kaibab National Forest.

Poisoning from lead ammunition is the leading cause of death for endangered California condors in the region.

In 2012 the Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club and Grand Canyon Wildlands Council, represented by Earthrise Law Center, sued the U.S. Forest Service for failing to regulate spent lead ammunition that is endangering wildlife. The groups contend that failure violates the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

“California condors can’t recover from the brink of extinction until we get lead ammo out of key habitat like the Kaibab National Forest,” said Lori Ann Burd, environmental health director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s awful these majestic birds continue to be poisoned while the federal government refuses to take the simple action we know can save them.”

This is the second time the case has prevailed in the appeals court, despite the federal government’s attempts to thwart it on jurisdictional grounds. The merits of the case will now be squarely before the district court.

The Kaibab National Forest has refused to regulate lead ammunition use despite clear evidence that it is contributing to the poisonings of condors and other wildlife that scavenge on animal remains contaminated by spent lead ammo.

Despite voluntary programs urging hunters to use non-lead ammo in Utah and Arizona, imperiled condors continue to suffer high rates of lead poisoning.

In 2018, 77 percent of all tested condors were found to have harmful levels of lead exposure. And 26 percent of tested condors showed clinical signs of poisoning, which can range from emaciation and vomiting to loss of coordination and eyesight.

“Today’s win in the Ninth Circuit pushes this important case forward, and once again rejects meritless arguments advanced by the federal government,” said Allison LaPlante, co-director of Earthrise Law Center, who argued the case before the Ninth Circuit. “The law is clear. The Kaibab can, and must, take action to protect endangered California condors from toxic lead ammunition.”

The case is legally significant because it is what is known as “a matter of first impression.” That means no court has ever decided whether a government entity allowing the use of lead ammunition can be held legally accountable for contributing to an “imminent and substantial endangerment to human health or the environment” under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

California condor
California condor photo courtesy USFWS. This image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.4 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Founded in 1996, Earthrise Law Center is the environmental legal clinic at Lewis & Clark Law School. Earthrise Law Center is a team of impassioned attorneys and staff working to achieve targeted environmental improvement while teaching the next generation of advocates to do the same.

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