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Yurok Tribe And Federal Partners Plan For Endangered Condors In Redwood National Park

Chris West / Yurok Tribe

For the first time in a century, visitors to Redwood National and State Parks could soon see a group of endangered California condors in the parks’ ancient redwood forests. A partnership between the Yurok Tribe, National Parks Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is finalizing plans to reintroduce an experimental population of condors into Northern California.

For the past 13 years the Yurok Tribe has been developing a management plan to bring back California condors. Tuesday’s announcement is a final step in the federal rulemaking process that designates this as an experimental population of the endangered birds. It also marks a decision between the tribe and federal agencies to build a condor management facility to house, release and observe condors, which are culturally significant for the tribe.

“We had a task force of elders who were tasked with identifying the most important restoration priorities for Yurok ancestral territory and they identified condor as being the single most important terrestrial-based animal to bring back to Yurok ancestral territory,” says Tiana Claussen, director of the tribe’s wildlife department.

Redwood National and State Parks Deputy Superintendent David Roemer says designating this as a non-essential, experimental population of California condors protects birds, while giving assurance to landowners that their property won’t be affected in the process.

“Condor reintroduction can only be as successful as they are welcomed in the regions they will fly and live,” Roemer says. “We want to be able to provide land owners, people with the ability to be flexible and not be impacted in a way that affects their lifestyle and bottom line.”

The Yurok Tribe, U.S. Fish and Wildlife and National Parks Service plans to bring six birds per year for 20 years to the region, which encompasses both Redwood National and State Parks and Yurok ancestral land. In the next year they hope to bring four juvenile birds to a rearing facility from other sanctuaries.

There are an estimated 300 California condors in the wild in California, Arizona, Utah and Baja California, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Just 23 of the birds were alive in 1982, shortly before they were placed in a captive breeding program to prevent extinction.

“It’s not just a species reintroduction. It’s not just bringing back a bird because it’s big or cool. It’s ecosystem restoration and it’s closely connected to the values of tribal self-government and their cultural believes,” says Roemer. “It’s got everything.”

Claussen says the nearest management facilities for California condors are in Central California at the Ventana Wildlife Society near Big Sur and inland at Pinnacles National Park. She says the Redwood National and State Park’s landscape that includes prairie ecosystems, old growth forests, windy ridges and coastal resources should provide ideal habitat for the birds.

“We think that it’s going to be a safe harbor for condors to expand into their historical range,” she says.

Erik Neumann is JPR's news director. He earned a master's degree from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and joined JPR as a reporter in 2019 after working at NPR member station KUER in Salt Lake City.