National park and Yurok Tribal officials are seeking public comment on a project to reintroduce California condors to the area as the plan enters its final stages.

Two public meetings will be held Thursday in Klamath and in Arcata. The public will be asked to provide input on a National Environmental Policy Act document related to a proposed release site in Yurok Country, according to a press release.

The NEPA review, which began January 2017 is the last stage of the permitting process before condors can be reintroduced, according to the press release.

The Yurok Tribe has spearheaded efforts to reintroduce the largest North American flying bird to its ancestral territory after receiving a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2008. It has since partnered with Redwood National Park, Fish and Wildlife Service and other agencies in the reintroduction effort.

At a U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs in March, Yurok Tribal Chairman Joseph James said California condor reintroduction efforts could be realized as early as this fall.

California condors were once found as far east as Florida and upstate New York, as far south as mainland Mexico and Baja, California and into British Columbia. But exposure to lead ammunition brought the birds to the brink of extinction. Twenty-two were left when scientists at the Los Angeles Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park began a rearing program in the 1980s to increase their numbers.

As of 2017, there were 450 birds, half of which were wild. Breeding facilities for the California condor include the Oregon Zoo and a Peregrine Fund site in Idaho, according to Yurok wildlife biologist Tiana Williams-Claussen.

Biologists with the Yurok Tribe Wildlife Program have determined the area is safe for condor reintroduction. They have sampled seals and sea lions for pesticides such as DDT and DDE, which can cause the thinning of condor eggshells and have found them to be lower than elsewhere in the state. They have also tested blood in turkey vultures and ravens for lead exposure due to ingested ammunition.

The first meeting is 10 a.m.-noon Thursday at Yurok Tribal Headquarters, 190 Klamath Blvd., in Klamath. The second meeting is 6 p.m.-8 p.m. at the Arcata Community Center, 321 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway in Arcata.

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