Federal-tribal partnership sets roadmap for bringing condors back to Oregon
California condors haven't soared through Oregon skies for more than a century, but a new plan could bring these majestic birds back to the Pacific Northwest as early as next year. A public meeting to provide information and receive input on the proposal takes place May 7, from 6 to 8 p.m., at the Oregon Zoo.
The plan — put forth by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Yurok Tribe of Northern California and the National Park Service — would reintroduce the continent's largest land bird at Redwood National Park in Northern California, a short flight by condor standards from southern Oregon, which is also part of the species' historic range.
After successful reintroductions of America's largest land bird to areas in the Desert Southwest and the Baja Peninsula, conservationists say the next big step in the species' recovery is reintroduction to parts of the Pacific Northwest. Though native to the region, and commonly seen during the time of Lewis and Clark, condors have been extinct here since 1904.
If the plan is approved, the Northwest condors would be deemed an "experimental, non-essential" population, an Endangered Species Act designation that would protect the birds while minimizing the impact on neighboring landowners.
"This is an exciting time in the condor's history," said Amedee Brickey, California condor coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "After more than a 100-year absence, this magnificent bird could once again fly high above the Pacific Northwest. 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 was one of the original animals included on the 1973 Endangered Species Act and is classified as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. In 1982, only 22 individuals remained in the wild and by 1987, the last condors were brought into human care in an attempt to save the species from extinction. Thanks to breeding programs like the Oregon Zoo's, condor numbers now total around 500, with more than 300 of those flying free.
"This is excellent news for condor recovery efforts," said Travis Koons, who oversees the Oregon Zoo's condor program. "The goal is to establish a self-sustaining population that someday re-inhabits the species' historical range, and this is an important step along the way. We're excited for the role Oregon Zoo–hatched condors might play in this reintroduction."
Since 2003, 79 chicks have hatched at the zoo's Jonsson Center, and 57 Oregon Zoo-reared birds have gone out to field pens for release. This year, eight more Oregon Zoo-hatched condor chicks are expected to join the wild population.
The Oregon Zoo's condor recovery efforts take place at the Jonsson Center for Wildlife Conservation, located in rural Clackamas County on Metro-owned open land. The remoteness of the facility minimizes the exposure of young condors to people, increasing the chances for captive-hatched birds to survive and breed in the wild.
California condor breeding programs are also operated at San Diego Zoo's Wild Animal Park, the Los Angeles Zoo and the Peregrine Fund's World Center for Birds of Prey in Idaho. LightHawk, a nonprofit conservation flying organization, also provides support for these condor-recovery efforts.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Yurok Tribe and the National Park Service are among 16 partners teaming up on the proposal to reintroduce condors to the Pacific Northwest, including California Fish and Wildlife and local community groups.
The proposal for establishing a Northwest condor population was published in the Federal Register on April 5, opening a 60-day public comment period. To learn more about the reintroduction effort and provide comments, visit oregonzoo.org/bring-condors-back.