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Yurok Tribe to release endangered California condors in Redwood National Park this month

Yurok Tribe

Critically endangered California condors are being reintroduced to the Redwood National Park for the first time in almost 100 years.

It’s taken over a decade of planning and preparation by Yurok members to bring back the California condor to their tribal lands.

Tiana Williams-Claussen is the wildlife department director with the Yurok Tribe, which is managing the restoration program. She says the critically endangered condors play an important role as a scavenger, one that smaller vultures or raven’s can’t provide.

“We don’t have anything of the magnitude of condors. They’re actually really important to breaking into and breaking down the very large animals like elk and California sea lions that our smaller scavengers can’t get into," she says.

Williams-Claussen adds the condor is considered sacred in the Yurok Tribe and plays an integral part in the tribe’s world renewal ceremonies.

She says it's taken 12 years of research and assessments to ensure the flock is successful.

“Several years were actually put into assessing A: does the habitat still have what it takes to support condors," she says. "And looking at two of the major human impacts to Condors which is actually introduction of lead contamination to the system, and introduction of DDT.”

Condors and other scavengers can ingest lead from bullets lodged in hunted animals. And DDT, while banned in the U.S. since 1972, remains in the environment for decades. Both contaminants, as well as poaching and habitat destruction, contributed to the near extinction of the species.

Yurok Tribe

Williams-Claussen says they’ve been very successful in working with local hunters to switch to lead-free bullets. And testing shows DDT isn’t a significant issue around the park.

Four juvenile birds arrived from several zoos this week. They are expected to be released into the wild later this month.

The facility is also host to one adult condor, which Williams-Claussen says can't be released into the wild, but will act as a teacher for the younger birds to helping them learn skills they need to thrive.

After the condors are released, they'll be monitored extensively to keep track of their health.

Williams-Claussen says the goal is to release four to six condors every year for the next 20 years, eventually forming a self-sustaining population in the region once again.

Roman Battaglia is a regional reporter for Jefferson Public Radio. After graduating from Oregon State University, Roman came to JPR as part of the Charles Snowden Program for Excellence in Journalism in 2019. He then joined Delaware Public Media as a Report For America fellow before returning to the JPR newsroom.