Fish & Game officer leaves post

Times Staff Writers

SACRAMENTO -- A member of the state Fish and Game Commission who sought to ban lead hunting bullets in condor territory resigned Thursday at the request of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s administration, after Republican lawmakers demanded his removal.

Some scientific studies say lead bullets are poisonous to the federally endangered birds.

The resignation of R. Judd Hanna provoked an angry response from environmentalists and Democrats, who are calling on the governor to sign legislation enacting such a ban currently on his desk.

In an e-mail to administration officials, commissioners and others, Hanna warned the lawmakers who pushed for his ouster at the request of hunting groups that “poisoning the California condor is neither honorable nor ethical.”

The bill passed Sept. 5 along party lines in the Legislature. This week, the governor received a letter from 34 GOP lawmakers asking that Hanna be ousted and alleging that he gave false information about the danger the bullets pose to condors.


“He has become an outspoken advocate seeking to achieve his own personal objectives,” the letter said. “Mr. Hanna is not being impartial.”

Reached by phone Thursday, Hanna said he was asked to resign by Mike Chrisman, secretary of the Resources Agency.

Chrisman’s office referred calls to the governor’s office, which confirmed the resignation but refused to discuss any details.

The bill the Legislature passed would ban hunters from using lead bullets in most of Monterey, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, and parts of eight other counties.

There are roughly 129 wild condors left in California and Arizona, and scientists say lead poisoning from bullets is one of their leading killers. Scientists say many of the birds ingest the lead when consuming hunted animals.

Assemblyman Pedro Nava (D-Santa Barbara), the author of the bill, called Hanna’s resignation “tragic.”

“I think what it says to other Fish and Game commissioners is if they don’t toe the [National Rifle Assn.] line, their jobs are in jeopardy,” Nava said. “If this is all it takes to change the composition of the Fish and Game Commission, there’s more stability in the Iraqi legislature.”

Hanna is the second appointee of the governor forced to vacate a seat on a state board this summer after championing the cause of environmentalists. In June, Air Resources Board Chairman Robert Sawyer was removed from his position after pushing for more aggressive limits on greenhouse gases than the governor supported.

Schwarzenegger appointed Hanna to the commission in February. A Vietnam veteran and former Navy test pilot, Hanna owned a Bay Area real estate development company and lives on a ranch near Lassen Volcanic National Park. His term on the commission would have expired in 2013.

“The mission of the commission has been deflected by a special interest group,” Hanna wrote in his e-mail, referring to the NRA. “Thus, an issue bearing on one of the commission’s most important mandates, protection of an endangered species, has been hijacked.”

Officials from the NRA could not be reached for comment. In documents submitted to the Legislature, the group joined a coalition of hunting organizations in arguing that there is no “irrefutable” scientific proof that the bullets have caused the death of the endangered birds through lead poisoning.

They warned that a ban could result in a decline of big-game hunting in California, forcing gun and ammunition retailers to lose business and state revenue associated with hunting to drop.

Several of the state’s major environmental groups, including Defenders of Wildlife, the Sierra Club, the Audubon Society and Environmental Defense, called on the governor to reinstate Hanna immediately.

Officials from the groups said that in addition to the Hanna dismissal, they were alarmed by a letter sent by the commission earlier this week urging the governor to veto the lead bullet ban passed by the Legislature.

The letter took up the cause of ammunition manufacturers, who have argued they do not have the technology to manufacture the type of lead-free bullets the new law would require.

“The requirement for the ammunition to have no lead content would essentially completely ban hunting of big game and coyotes throughout Condor range,” the letter said.

The letter urging a veto of the bill said the commission is studying the issue and will curb use of the bullets, if warranted, through regulatory action. But conservationists are dubious.

Said Kim Delfino, state program director for Defenders of Wildlife: “We don’t know where this will all end up.”