KLAMATH, Calif. — The California condor, once perilously close to total extinction, is now one major step closer to reintroduction in the iconic redwood forests of Northern California.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, and the Yurok Tribe announced the advent of a final rule that paves the way for creation of a California condor release facility. The facility will be the epicenter for reintroduction of the rare bird into Redwood National Park and the Yurok Ancestral Territory — what once made up the northern reaches of the California condor's environment.
The facility will be operated by the Northern California Condor Restoration Program, a partnership between Redwood National Park and the Yurok Tribe.
“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. 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,” said Joseph L. James, Chairman of the Yurok Tribe.
The Yurok Tribe has been working toward this goal since at least 2019, requiring "a tremendous amount of legwork" to make the plan a reality — including environmental assessments, contaminant analyses, and community outreach.
California condors once spanned much of the continental US, reaching as far as western Canada and northern Mexico. But by the early 1980s, less than two dozen of the condors survived following decades of poaching and environmental poisons. The remaining birds were placed into a captive breeding program in an attempt to save the species from extinction.
There are now over 300 California condors living in the wild between California, Arizona, Utah, and the Baja Peninsula. Regardless, California condors remain endangered, and human-caused hazards like lead poisoning remain a threat to the species in the wild.
“We are excited for this opportunity to bring these iconic birds back to California habitat that has not been occupied for decades,” said Stafford Lehr, Deputy Director of Wildlife and Fisheries for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. “These birds are important to the biodiversity of the landscape and we are pleased with the collaboration amongst state and federal agencies, the Yurok Tribe, and private companies to conserve this species.”
The Redwood National Park population of condors will be classified as non-essential and experimental, and the final rule will exempt most "incidental take" of condors within the population — provided that that the take is unintentional and not due to negligence. Still, some activities will be prohibited within 656 feet of an occupied nest, primarily those related to destruction or disruption of the habitat.