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Local tribe leads effort to reintroduce endangered condor to Pacific Northwest

The Yurok Tribe of Northern California hope to restore the endangered California condor to its once-native range throughout the Pacific Northwest.

Posted: Apr 4, 2019 4:35 PM
Updated: Apr 4, 2019 5:17 PM

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — For centuries, the California condor's range covered the entire West Coast of the United States, even extending north into British Columbia and south into Mexico. But by 1985, the species had dwindled to just 22 known birds.

In a desperate attempt to save the species, wildlife officials took the remaining condors into captivity and began a breeding program to revive them. Today, 290 California condors live in the wild — but only in the desert Southwestern U.S. and areas of the northern Baja Peninsula.

Now, the Yurok Tribe of Northern California is working with federal agencies in an attempt to return the California condor to its native lands in the Pacific Northwest.

“For ten 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. The Yurok Tribe is sincerely grateful for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s and Redwood National Park’s recent partnership in this effort to fill a crucial ecological niche and restore balance in our world.”

Alongside the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and National Park Service (NPS), the Yurok Tribe said it has helped to negotiate for a California condor release facility in Redwood National Park, "within the Tribe's ancestral territory."

The new population is being given the status of “Nonessential, Experimental” under the Endangered Species Act — giving protections to the new population while maintaining certain powers for landowners who could be affected by the reintroduction, according to the Yurok Tribe.

“This is an exciting time in the Condor’s history. After more than a hundred-year absence, this magnificent bird could once again fly high above the Pacific Northwest,” said Amedee Brickey, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service California condor coordinator. “The successful reintroductions in southern California, Arizona and Mexico have taught us a great deal, and while challenges remain, we believe we have a model for success with these northern reintroductions.”

The California condor boasts a wingspan of nearly 10 feet, making it the biggest "soaring land bird" in North America. Like its ubiquitous cousin the turkey vulture, it is primarily a scavenger — feeding on dead animals.

"Native people throughout their historical range revere them, and the Yurok people have incorporated fallen condor feathers into sacred ceremonial practices since time immemorial," the Tribe said in a statement.

According to the Yurok Tribe, the redwood forests and mountains of this area remain prime territory for the California condor, and the science points toward success.

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