In 1983, only 22 California condors—the largest land bird in North America—were left in the wild. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spent years capturing and breeding the surviving scavenger birds to save them from extinction, slowly trying to reintroduce some into the wild.
The work is paying off. About 200 condors currently live in the wild, in Southern California and Arizona, but northern California will soon have its own condor population. Fifteen U.S. agencies and the Yurok tribe have collaborated on a 2-year plan to reintroduce them to the Redwood National and State Parks. They held the first of five public meetings about the program in northern California last week, according to the San Francisco Chronicle and SFist.
The plan for how to restart northern California's wild condor population isn't yet solidified, and the agencies will still have to prepare an environmental impact report. And it's likely that not everyone will be psyched about the birds' reintroduction. According to the Chronicle:
So far, no significant opposition has come forward, though timber companies have voiced concern that the introduction of an endangered species could interrupt operations. In response, federal officials are considering designating condors an experimental nonessential population, which would allow regulators to relax protections when appropriate.
The upcoming public meetings will be a chance for those opposition groups to bring their concerns forward.
The condor has mythological significance to many Native American tribes in California, but it’s a particularly sacred animal for the Yurok. The idea is to release the birds on the tribe’s ancestral land.
The birds historically covered territory not just in California, but along the Pacific Northwest, so the released condors might migrate to Oregon, where they haven’t been seen in the wild for a century. The Oregon Zoo’s condor breeding program has hatched 60 chicks since it started in 2003. However, California has banned the lead ammunition that poisons condors that eat the remains of animals killed by hunters, while Oregon has not, making it risky to reintroduce them to the wild there.