GRAND CANYON, Ariz. -- The Arizona Game and Fish Department is asking the Sierra Club to retract a fundraising letter that makes false statements about Arizona’s endangered condor population. The department (AZGFD) says untrue claims were made about hazards to condor health in a fundraising letter from Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club. In his June 24 fundraising appeal, Brune claims a link between uranium mining and condor health.
Despite a moratorium against uranium mines in effect until 2032, the Sierra Club’s fundraising letter implies numerous times that uranium mining is a specific threat to condors. Michael Brune’s letter claims “An estimated 3,000 mines could be opened up. For the 78 remaining critically endangered California Condors that live in the Grand Canyon, that would be nothing short of devastating … radioactive, toxic waste would deluge one of our nation's most iconic, majestic parks and wildlife that live there.”
Wildlife scientists working to reintroduce condors in Arizona have made steady progress by limiting condors’ exposure to lead, convincing Arizona hunters to voluntarily use lead-free ammunition within condor range and eliminating other impediments to their recovery. But according to Allen Zufelt, condor program coordinator for the Arizona Game and Fish Department, uranium has not been identified as a factor.
“Since 1996, when condors were first released into Arizona, we have had exactly zero cases of morbidity or mortality caused by any sort of uranium poisoning,” Zufelt said. “There is no peer-reviewed scientific information that indicates any link. Our condor population faces enough legitimate threats that there’s no need to create false scares.”
Chris Parish, Arizona-Utah Condor Reintroduction Project Director for the Peregrine Fund, has been a hands-on participant in condor recovery. His organization also takes exception to the Sierra Club’s claims. “We have not documented any sickness or death in the Arizona-Utah population of condors caused by uranium,” Parish said. “Lead poisoning remains the number one problem for condor survival.”
Eric Davis, California condor coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, works closely with AZGFD and the Peregrine Fund on the condor reintroduction project. “Lead poisoning is the biggest threat to California condors. I am not aware of uranium poisoning being a threat to condors,” Davis said.
“We have let others debate uranium issues because our primary concern is Arizona’s wildlife, not uranium. But when Sierra Club drags wildlife into the argument to raise funds through absolute misrepresentation, we’re going to call them on it,” said Pat Madden, chairman of the Arizona Game and Fish Commission. “Uranium has been present at the Canyon for millions of years, and nothing the Sierra Club can do in a courtroom will ever change that. Suggesting that sending money to the Sierra Club can protect condors from a non-existent threat is less than honest. This must stop.”
For more information on how AZGFD protects and conserves wildlife, visit www.azgfd.gov.