Lead Ammunition Ban Proponent with History of Misleading the Public Cannot Provide Sources to Back Claims on Condor Deaths

on . Posted in Latest News, Lead Ammunition Ban Proponents

The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) issued a dramatic press release on April 16, 2013, as part of its campaign to make it illegal to hunt with lead-based ammunition throughout the world.  The press release makes several specific claims.  First, it states unequivocally that the deaths of three specific California condors (Condors) were “definitively linked to lead poisoning from ingesting spent lead ammunition fragments in carrion[.]”  Second, the press release claims that numerous other Condor deaths outside of California have been “due to poisoning from ingesting lead ammunition fragments left in gut piles or carcasses of shot game.”

Many reputable scientists are suspicious of CBD’s specific claims.  Notably, the press release does not cite any necropsy, report, or other scientific source to support the specific claims that CBD made definitively linking lead-based ammunition to particular Condor deaths.  The scientists and legal counsel working with the National Rifle Association (NRA) and other groups that oppose lead ammunition bans are quite familiar with the information that is publicly available regarding Condors.  It is their opinion that some of CBD’s assertions were based on CBD’s own biased speculation, not scientific proof.   So to confirm that CBD was misrepresenting the facts, attorneys for the NRA asked CBD to provide the specific source(s) of information that CBD relied on in making these particular, highly suspect statements.

CBD’s (non)response to NRA’s lawyers was less than forthcoming.  Authored by CBD’s executive director Kieran Suckling, CBD’s response only claims generally that there are “volumes of scientific studies and reports documenting the damaging, often lethal effect of spent lead ammunition and shot on endangered California condors.”   CBD’s condescension is palpable: “I think you’ll find that a biologist would have easily obtained or already possessed all of this publicly available information.”

Objection Kieran: Non-responsive!  CBD’s executive director’s response fails to specifically identify one single source that expressly supports CBD’s specific claims about these specific condors!  And those were the specific questions at issue.  Instead of answering them, CBD sidestepped the actual questions, cited to off-point internet sources (some clearly out-of-date or concerning the wrong Condor population) to deflect attention from its failure to provide a direct response, and issued a fund-raising missive demonizing the NRA.

CBD’s rhetorical contortions are revealing.  CBD’s factual shell game shows that CBD is jumping to conclusions and packaging its speculation to look like established scientific fact.

Indeed, the NRA is not alone in questioning the veracity of CBD’s claims.  Condor biologist Allen Zufelt, head of the Arizona Game & Fish Department’s California Condor Project, is also concerned about CBD’s attempts to spread misinformation.  Soon after the CBD press release was posted Mr. Zufelt, acting independently, sent a critique of CBD’s April 16 press release to reporters in Arizona in which he deconstructed the half-truths and questionable statements in the press release.

The misinformation created by CBD’s amorphous propaganda campaign compounds the fact that actual Condor-related data, gathered in large part at taxpayer expense, is being hidden from the public.

Those familiar with CBD’s methods will not be surprised by its gamesmanship.  CBD has a history of posting less-than-truthful information on the internet, and paying the price for doing so.  In 2002, CBD posted a press release on its website that included numerous misrepresentations about a cattle rancher.   The whole matter could have been resolved if CBD would have taken the defamatory material off of its website and provided a written apology.  But CBD did neither.  The rancher filed a defamation lawsuit, and a jury confirmed that CBD had knowingly lied in the 2002 press release.  The jury awarded the rancher $600,000 in damages, which included $500,000 in punitive damages because CBD’s conduct was determined by the jury to be malicious.  The jury’s verdict was affirmed on appeal, and the Arizona Supreme Court denied CBD’s request for review of the matter.   (“They don’t use science, they use scare tactics[,]” said James Chilton, the victorious plaintiff in Chilton v. Center for Biological Diversity, Inc., No. C 2003-3724, 2005 WL 1635123 (Ariz. March 2, 2005)). 

Don’t be fooled by CBD’s spin games and fund-raising shenanigans.  Condor mortality issues are complex scientific questions, requiring precise scientific analysis and valid methodology.  Addressing these questions requires more than flippant missives and misleading internet postings designed to raise money for CBD by using the NRA and its efforts on behalf of the hunters (the true conservationists) as straw men.

NRA lawyers have sent CBD a follow-up letter calling CBD out for its gamesmanship.  We shall see if CBD will provide any information that can stand up to real scientific scrutiny.