(Yurok) Tribe hopes to return condors to Klamath
Possible release of large endangered birds could mean sightings in
the Rogue Valley, new hunting regulations
by Mark Freeman,
Mail Tribune March 6, 2009
Yurok tribal members
are looking into reintroducing endangered California condors into
the lower Klamath River basin, a move that likely would mean a
bird not seen in Oregon in more than a century would be flying
over the Rogue Valley.
The tribe, based in Klamath, Calif., is hosting a two-day summit
beginning today with state and federal officials as well as condor
experts about the chance of returning the world's largest land
bird to this region.
So far, condor populations have been re-established only in
Arizona, Southern California and Mexico, so the Klamath would be
the most northerly site for the efforts to return these massive
birds to North America.
"I think the feasibility is good," said Shawn St. Michael, who
heads the condor-breeding program at the Oregon Zoo, which is one
of four facilities in the country that breed condors for release.
"But there's a certain amount of planning on the front end before
anything can go forward."
The condors, which are federally listed as an endangered species,
were native to most large basins here, and documented in at least
the Klamath, Umpqua and Columbia drainages. The last confirmed
Oregon sighting was in 1904 near Drain, within the Umpqua Basin
southwest of Cottage Grove.
Since the birds with wingspans of up to 10 feet are known to fly
up to 300 miles a day in search of carrion, the Rogue River basin
would be a logical place for the birds either to frequent or to
establish themselves, experts say.
"If we had birds in Northern California, we'd likely have birds in
Oregon in short order," St. Michael said.
Re-establishing the region as condor country could bring changes
to sport-hunting that are considered needed to help the birds
Studies show the chief limiting factor to condor recovery is lead
poisoning, and the most common source of that lead is the
ingestion of bullet fragments in the carcasses and gut piles left
"The use of lead slugs in condor range is always a point of the
discussion," St. Michael said. "It has to be. It's not fair to the
animals if it isn't."
California has banned the use of lead bullets in condor habitat.
Arizona has a voluntary program that provides hunters in condor
habitat with all-copper bullets, and three out of four hunters who
use them recommend their use to all hunters, according to the
Arizona Department of Fish and Game.
"I think that's a realistic model for other areas," said St.
Michael, who added hunters and other interest groups would be
brought into the fold should a reintroduction be planned in the
Lead shot has been banned for waterfowl hunting since 1991, and
several alternatives to lead already are marketed within the
"I don't think we anticipate any real problems," said Russ Stauff,
the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's Rogue Watershed
Fred Craig, however, disagrees.
As president of the Oregon Hunters Association and a biological
sciences technician studying birds for the Rogue River-Siskiyou
National Forest, Craig said he has read the lead-in-condors
studies and has heard from some OHA members that they are "very
opposed" to a lead ban.
"Science accepts it but sportsmen do not," Craig said. "There will
be a lot of unhappy people if they ban lead in southwest Oregon."
Stauff will represent Oregon in today's meetings.
"We just want to get on the ground floor on this," Stauff said.
"They're a neat bird and there's a lot of interest from that
aspect. There aren't a lot of 20-pound birds out there."
The meeting, which is not open to the public, will be held at the
Yurok Tribal Office. Yurok spokesman Matt Mais declined to comment
on the meeting or the condor effort until Yurok officials first
can discuss it with the tribe's 5,400 members.
The tribe actively has looked into condor reintroduction since at
least 2007, when a similar "Condor Summit" was held in Klamath,
The tribe last spring received a $200,000 federal grant toward
studying the feasibility of a reintroduction there, including an
attempt to study lead levels in turkey vultures that often feed on
the same carrion.
According to the Oregon Zoo, condors extended across much of North
America during the Pleistocene Era, which ended about 10,000 years
By 1940, that range had been reduced to the coastal mountains of
Southern California, and in 1967 condors were added to the first
federal list of endangered species.
In 1987, the 17 condors remaining in the wild were brought into
captivity and a captive-breeding program was developed, according
to the zoo.
To date, 149 condors are living in captivity and another 172 in
the wild, St. Michael said.
Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail email@example.com.
WHAT: The California condor is the largest bird in North America
and an endangered species. SIZE: Adults weigh up to 25 pounds and
measure up to 55 inches long. Wingspans can approach 9½ feet or
more. DESCRIPTION: Adults have mostly bald heads that are shades
of pink. Feathers are dark, except for white underwings. Beaks are
long, sharp and powerful. Talons are weak. HABITAT: The condor
once was almost extinct. According to the Oregon Zoo; 172 now live
in the wilds of Southern California, Arizona and Mexico, thanks to
captive breeding done largely in Oregon. DIET: Scavengers, they
eat everything from dead salmon to dead marine mammals such as
whales and seals, even dead cattle. FLIGHT: Condors prefer to
glide on rising air currents. Charles Darwin wrote that he once
watched a condor in flight for 30 minutes without seeing it beat