Today, California Condors Fly Over the State’s Iconic Redwood Trees & Parks For the First Time in 130 Years

by Jon D. B.
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On the morning of Tuesday, May 3, at 10:12 AM Pacific, the redwoods greet an old friend. Thanks to the historic partnership between the Yurok Tribe and Redwood National and State Parks, California condors now fly the state’s northern skies for the first time in well over a century.

It’s a bright and clear morning as the Yurok Tribe and the Redwood parks facilitate the release of the first California condors – the prey-go-neesh – to take flight in the center of the bird’s former range since 1892. As Redwood National and State Park livestreams, four condors enjoy the sunshine in their holding pen. With both younglings and mentor birds present, the condors must voluntarily enter a designated staging area with access to the outside world. When they do, then they’ll fly out to be the first of their species to greet Northern California’s giant redwood trees in 130 years.

‘Condor reintroduction is a real-life manifestation of our cultural commitment to restore and protect the planet for future generations’

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California condors awaiting flight on May 2, 2022. Photo courtesy of Yurok Tribe media release, California State Parks

“For countless generations, the Yurok people have upheld a sacred responsibility to maintain balance in the natural world. Condor reintroduction is a real-life manifestation of our cultural commitment to restore and protect the planet for future generations,” offers Chairman of the Yurok Tribe, Joseph L. James, ahead of this historic release. “On behalf of the Yurok Tribe, I would like to thank all of the individuals, agencies and organizations that helped us prepare to welcome prey-go-neesh (condor) back to our homeland.”

Right at 10:00 AM Pacific, the two condors targeted for release become animated and ready to take to the skies. They transition into a release cage, and the tone all staff on hand shifts to one of immediacy and thrill. If the condors didn’t enter the transition zone by 4:00 PM, a second attempt to release would occur Wednesday. But today is the day:

At 10:12 AM, condor A3 looks to the blue sky and leaps into the wild. She’s free – the first of her kind to greet her ancestral homeland in more than a century.

This sort of carefully designed release procedure is one component of a comprehensive management plan. And it will bring the reintroduction of California condors to their native lands.

The projected timeline for a self-sustaining population is 20 years, the park announces during their livestream (above). It’ll take decades to establish a breeding population. But the first steps of these four condors are paramount.

California Condors Return ‘Represents a Significant Milestone’ in Restoration of Redwood Forests and Indigenous Partnerships

“The return of the condors to the skies over the redwoods represents a significant milestone in the restoration of this magnificent forest to its former glory,” offers Redwood National and State Park Superintendent Steve Mietz. “This project is a model for listening to and following the lead of the park’s original stewards, healing both our relationship with the land and its original people.”

The team on hand Tuesday morning is all smiles. Comprised of biologists and technicians from the Yurok Tribe and Redwood National Park, the Northern California Condor Restoration Program (NCCRP) will collaboratively manage this flock from a newly constructed condor release and management facility in Northern California, near the Klamath River. The NCCRP team will work collaboratively with the other condor field teams as part of the larger California Condor Recovery Program. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) will guide from there.

Collaboration of this scale is incredibly rare. Having it led by the hands of a land’s Indigenous People is nigh unheard of. And the National Park Service hopes to fix this using the California condor’s NCCRP as a guiding star.

“Every year, the Yurok Tribe completes multiple, largescale river and forest habitat improvement projects in our ancestral territory. We also manage a 15,000-acre Old Growth Redwood-Forest and Salmon Sanctuary. Condor reintroduction is a major part of our long-term plan to restore the diverse ecosystems within our homeland,” adds Frankie Myers, the Yurok Tribe’s Vice Chairman. “As a people, we will not recover from the traumas of the last century until we fix our environment. Because our culture, our ceremonies, our wellbeing and our identity are inextricably linked to the landscape.”

‘At regular intervals, the NCCRP will be releasing new condor cohorts into Redwood National Park’

At regular intervals, the NCCRP will be releasing new condor cohorts into Redwood National Park. Then, over time, the birds are expected to disperse across Northern California and Southern Oregon.

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California condors awaiting flight on May 2, 2022. Photo courtesy of Yurok Tribe media release, California State Parks

Through NCCRP’s careful management, the primary goal is to develop a self-sustaining condor population in the rural region. The condor’s presence will fill a currently vacant ecological niche in the redwood forest ecosystem; one that has been sorely absent for over 100 years.

Hopes are high for the success of this reintroduction, too. Over the last 30 years, the Service’s California Condor Recovery Program has developed an exceptionally effective blueprint to guide the reintroduction process. Their efforts and conditioning of the condors begins long before they are released.

For example, reintroduced condors are reared in large flight pens with exposure to the natural environment. When possible, other condors of various ages for mentorship. The extremely social avian scavengers acquire life skills from their elders and their own experiences. These elder, or mentor, birds assist the juvenile California condors in obtaining the worldly knowledge they need to survive.

As with any conservation project, the goal is thriving outside of captivity. Once the birds are wild, the hope is for no human contact. Instead, the Yurok Tribe and NPS look to the skies, the trees, and the spirit of a land one step closer to being complete.

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