The public will have a chance to review environmental documents and comment on efforts by the Yurok Tribe, the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to bring the California condor back to the North Coast.
The proposed plan for establishing a Northwest California condor population was published in the Federal Register on Friday, opening a 60-day public comment period, according to a joint press release from the tribe and the two agencies. The tribe, the National Park Service and Fish and Wildlife Service will also hold a series of public meetings next month in Northern California and Oregon to allow folks to weigh in on the proposed reintroduction, according to the release.
Speaking before the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs last month, Yurok Tribal Chairman Joseph James said efforts to bring the California condor back to his people's ancestral territory could be realized as early as this fall.
"Low human populations minimize and decrease the risk of negative human interactions," James told the Senate committee on March 6. "The climate is likely to remain buffered (according to) 100-year projections, maintaining viable habitat. A memorandum of understanding has been signed with multiple federal and state regulatory partners. We're undergoing environmental assessment under NEPA to plan the release of the birds in fall 2019."
The Yurok Tribe has spearheaded efforts to reintroduce the California condor to the Pacific Northwest after receiving a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2008. It has since partnered with the Fish and Wildlife Service, Redwood National and State Parks and other agencies to return North America's largest land bird to their ancestral land.
The Yurok Tribe will use a $900,000 Environmental Regulatory Enhancement grant from the Administration for Native Americans to renovate a building on National Park Service land to serve as a condor management and operations center for staff participating in reintroduction efforts, Yurok wildlife biologist Tiana Williams-Claussen told the Triplicate last month.
Grant money has also paid for training with existing release programs on how to safely handle the birds, according to Williams-Claussen. Pacific Gas and Electric has also donated money through the National Parks Foundation since the condors will be released in Redwood National Park.
Williams-Claussen said the tribe is hoping to reintroduce six birds per year in the Bald Hills area due to its large herd of Roosevelt elk as well as its bear population. Condors need open prairies to look for the large animals they prefer to feed on.
Meanwhile Redwood National Park's old-growth trees provide perfect roosting habitat, according to RNP Deputy Superintendent Dave Roemer. Ocean thermals allow the birds to soar and marine mammal carcasses are as much a staple of their diet as large land animals are, he said.
The California condor's prehistoric range once extended to the southern North American continent, to the East Coast and into British Columbia. But exposure to lead ammunition caused a decline in the population until in about 22 birds were left in the wild by the 1980s.
Rearing programs, which started at the Los Angeles Zoo and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, have increased the population to about 450 as of 2017, according to Williams-Claussen.
The birds have been absent from the Pacific Northwest for more than 100 years, according to 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," she said in a written statement Thursday, "and while challenges remain, we believe we have a model for success with these northern reintroductions."