Hunters should be allies of conservationists—in the best situations, hunting and wildlife groups have been great advocates of preserving habitat, which is the core issue, I think, in protecting biodiversity. If they’re doing it so they can go in and blow away a few big meaty game animals, well, OK…setting aside that acreage also means a richer array of songbirds and arthropods and plants and fish and lizards and amphibians, which normally aren’t shot up, have a better chance of survival.

Sometimes, though, short-sightedness and denial and a refusal to deal with a minor inconvenience undercut that whole plan. An article on the California condors is a perfect example: the use of lead ammunition is killing the birds indirectly. Wild condors have a ten times greater concentration of lead in their blood compared to captive birds, and the source is the flurry of lead hunters are flinging into the environment.

“The condor food supply is almost completely contaminated,” says Noel Snyder, a retired biologist with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. He adds that Hunt’s research [5.1MB PDF] shows that deer flesh is tainted after the animals are shot; this raises questions about human health as well. “When you look at these X-rays, you have to ask yourself, ‘Why would I eat deer meat?’”

In recent years, California has attempted to limit the use of lead ammunition in the condor range, but introduced legislation continues to get defeated. Kelly Sorenson of the Ventana Wildlife Society says that hunting groups and the National Rifle Association are resisting change but that lawsuits filed in July by environmental groups may force state legislators to act. Although it is costly, ammunition made from other metals is available.

Every fall, I know that lots of my students take off for opening weekend of deer season—I even consult the DNR schedule when putting together my exam calendar—and it’s nice to know now that they’re putting their brains at risk. Chronic Wasting Disease is scary enough, now it’s also a question of lead poisoning. I think I’ll avoid the venison.