New Plan Would Return California Condors To Northwest Skies

The Oregon Zoo is home to one-tenth of the world’s population of California condors. This one is named Kaweah. CREDIT: Miranda Daviduk/OPB
The Oregon Zoo is home to one-tenth of the world’s population of California condors. This one is named Kaweah. CREDIT: Miranda Daviduk/OPB

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Federal agencies and Northern California’s Yurok Tribe have released a plan to reintroduce critically endangered California condors to the Pacific Northwest.

California condors are the largest soaring land bird on the continent, but they’ve been missing from Northwest skies for decades.

Their numbers across the West dwindled to just 22 birds in 1985. Since then, captive breeding and reintroduction efforts have been slowly rebuilding the population. There are now 312 condors in the wild in the southwestern U.S. and Baja, Mexico, region.

Susan Sawyer with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says the new plan would introduce around six birds a year into Redwood National Park — about 20 miles south of the Oregon state line.

“The reintroduction sites are considered to be prime condor habitat within redwood forests and mountain ranges,” she said. “And there’s a good chance these birds will be seen flying over Oregon skies once again. They are impressive birds. If you have never seen one, they are big.”

According to Sawyer, some of the birds that are introduced into the wild could come from the captive breeding program at the Oregon Zoo. The reintroduction plan outlines protections for the new, experimental population of condors including restrictions on activities such as tree falling and the use of fireworks within a certain range of habitat. It also allows nearby landowners to impact the birds incidentally through otherwise legal activities.

The condor holds deep cultural significance for the Yurok Tribe, which has been working with federal agencies to restore the bird’s populations on the tribe’s ancestral territory.

“For 10 years, we have been laying the groundwork to bring the condor back to Yurok Country,” said Joseph L. James, chairman of the Yurok Tribe. “I am excited about the prospect of seeing the sacred prey-go-neesh soaring over Yurok skies.”

Officials will be holding public meetings on the plan across the region, including one in Portland on May 7 and in Medford on May 8. They will be taking public comments through June 4.

Copyright 2019 Oregon Public Broadcasting

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