The Hunters Helping Condors program incentivizes hunting with non-lead ammunition to help protect an endangered species of bird, the California Condor. This large vulture almost went extinct and has since been reintroduced in several parts of North America, including southern Utah. Condors feed on carrion, including meat from hunted animals, and can develop fatal lead poisoning when exposed to remains shot with lead bullets. With only around 500 California Condors alive today, reducing lead exposure is crucial to the species' recovery. Jake Richards, a Master's student in the Department of Environment and Society at USU, is working to increase awareness among hunters of the importance of using non-lead ammunition. Richards emphasized that lead poisoning poses a risk for many species of birds, not just the California Condor. "Very, very big issue in the bird world, probably near the top of the list for most bird conservation organizations," Richards said.
Hunters Helping Condors offers all hunters holding Zion permits a coupon for free non-lead ammunition and a chance to win £800 worth of outdoor merchandise if they use non-lead ammunition while hunting. Despite these incentives, Richards said that hunter participation is well below the target of 85%. "And so, we're trying to figure out what type of communication can tap into some internal motivators to get more participation because the external motivators seem to have plateaued a little bit," Richards said. A hunter himself, Richards believes that hunters feel stewardship for the landscapes where they hunt. His research aims to draw on these feelings to bridge the gap between conservationists and hunters.
"I really think hunters are conservationists, and they're kind of an untapped resource for solving some of these issues," Richards said.