For the first time in 100 years, the endangered California condor will return to Northern California due to the dedicated work of the Yurok Tribe.
On Monday, the tribe transported four condors from San Simeon to the Northern California Condor Restoration Program’s flight pen in the Redwood National Park. The birds, ranging from 2 to 3 years old, will spend the next six weeks acclimating to the environment before being released into the wild.
With a wingspan of almost 10 feet, the California condor is the largest soaring land bird in North America. These massive vultures are essential members of their ecosystems and play a significant role in the spiritual and cultural beliefs of the Yurok Tribe, as well as many other Tribes, throughout northern California and the Pacific Northwest. Over the past 14 years, the Yurok Tribe has led this reintroduction effort and completed a tremendous amount of legwork to prepare for the return of condors to the Pacific Northwest.
“For the last 20 years, the Yurok Tribe has been actively engaged in the restoration of the rivers, forests and prairies in our ancestral territory,” said Joseph L. James, Chairman of the Yurok Tribe. “The reintroduction of the condor is one component of this effort to reconstruct the diverse environmental conditions that once existed in our region. We are extremely proud of the fact that our future generations will not know a world without prey-go-neesh. We are excited to work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Redwood National Park on the final stages of the project and beyond.”
The reintroduction of condors into the region will help restore balance in the ecosystem of the North Coast. The large vulture will be able to feed on large carcasses like elk and deer, breaking them down and helping smaller scavengers feed on the remains.
The majestic bird is also a crucial cultural representative of the Yurok Tribe. According to elders of the tribe, condors help clean up the world and keep it in balance.
California condors prehistorically ranged from California to Florida and, in contemporary times, from Western Canada to Northern Mexico. By the mid-20th century, condor populations drastically declined due to poaching and poisoning. In 1967, the California condor was listed as endangered. In 1982, only 23 condors survived worldwide. By 1987, all remaining wild condors were placed into a captive breeding program. Thus, began an intensive recovery program to save the species from extinction.
As a result of exemplary conservation partnerships, and intensive captive breeding and reintroduction efforts, there are now over 300 California condors in the wild in California, Arizona, Utah and Baja California. However, the bird is still listed as endangered and lead poisoning (largely caused by ingesting lead shot or fragments of lead bullets when feeding on carcasses) is listed as one of the specie’s primary threats.
“The return of condors to the skies above Redwood National and State Parks is a critical step toward recovery of this majestic landscape,” said Steve Mietz, superintendent of Redwood National and State Parks. “Working with our friends and partners, the Yurok Tribe and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, we will continue the unparalleled success story of condor recovery allowing all Americans to visit the tallest trees in the world while watching one of the largest birds in the world soar overhead.”
You can view a livestream of the condors here.