Commemorating his efforts to preserve the last 130 California condors remaining in the wild, the Humane State Legislator of the Year Award was presented to local assemblyman Pedro Nava yesterday in downtown Santa Barbara.

U.S. Humane Society CEO Wayne Pacelle presented the award to the 35th District assemblyman in front of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History at 1 p.m. Nava was chosen to receive the award after he introduced the Ridley-Tree Condor Preservation Act to the State Assembly. The bill, already passed by the Assembly and state Senate, would protect the endangered California condor by banning the use of lead ammunition near the birds’ habitat. It is currently awaiting a signature from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and has an Oct. 14 deadline.

“Nava is getting an award today because he is more concerned with animals than any other lawmaker in California,” Pacelle said. “I am really thrilled to be here. The Humane Society of the United States believes that animals matter. We have a responsibility. We have to remember that these creatures depend on us.”

In addition to media members and condor enthusiasts, the audience included a fourth grade class from Coastline Christian Academy in Goleta. During the ceremony, Nava explained the importance of the condors to the fourth graders.

“The condor once flew over woolly mammoths and saber-toothed tigers,” Nava said. “That is their history. We want them to have a future.”

The Museum of Natural History’s condor biologist Jan Hamber said lead ammunition is dangerous because condors often eat other animals that were shot with the bullets.

“What happens with lead is, as it goes into the [condor’s] digestive tract, it poisons them by dissolving into the bloodstream,” she said. “I was there when the first bird died from lead in 1984.”

According to Nava’s official Web site, only 27 California condors remained 20 years ago. As a result of a captive breeding program, the number has increased to 130.

“Despite their survival for over 10,000 years, the California condor now faces its biggest threat to survival: lead ammunition,” Nava stated.

In a press release, Pacelle stated that Nava has exhibited effective leadership throughout his term as an assemblyman.

“He has demonstrated his effectiveness by shepherding through the legislature a critical measure to preserve North America’s largest and most endangered bird,” Pacelle said. “It’s a practical solution that will improve the image of hunters, help protect multiple species of wildlife in California and spare the condors a massive threat to their very survival.”

When Nava received the award, he said one motivation for protecting wildlife is to make sure that children have a chance to enjoy animals and nature.

“We want to make sure the next generation has a chance to see the condor fly, not just see it like this,” Nava said, gesturing to a stuffed condor. “This year, for the first time [in the area] in over 100 years, a baby condor was born [in the wild]. This program will work. But it won’t work if hunters continue to use lead.”

The main opposition to the Condor Preservation Act comes from the National Rifle Association, which argues that the abolition of lead ammunition might end all hunting.

“The legislature did not take into account the effects of a lead ammunition ban on the state’s hunters,” the NRA’s official Web site states. “Studies show that a ban will force many hunters to quit hunting altogether. This will have terrible consequences on wildlife management practices and the state’s hunting heritage.”

However, Pacelle said he opposed the argument of the NRA.

“That is nonsense,” Pacelle said. “Waterfowl hunting has continued, and if you’re a duck hunter, it’s been years since you’ve been able to use lead. … It is just a matter of exercising the alternative.

Pacelle said one alternative to lead ammunition is the use of nontoxic shock to hunt prey.

At the end of the ceremony, Nava turned to the fourth-grade class and had them yell, “Governor, protect the condor!”

“All of my words don’t match the eloquence of what these kids just said to the governor,” Nava said.