National Parks Journal: Sacred California Condors Finally Returning to Redwood National and State Parks in 2022

by Jon D. B.
(Photo by: Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Redwood National and State Parks Ranger Steven Krause speaks to Outsider on the long-overdue reintroduction of these remarkable birds of prey.

In 2003, the Yurok Tribe of California marked the restoration of California condors to Yurok Ancestral Territory as a top priority. Almost two decades later it’s finally becoming a reality thanks to a partnership with the National Park Service (NPS).

“In the last few decades, national parks have been trying to include more diversity,” Ranger Krause offers for Outsider’s National Parks Journal. “Inclusion is important, not just for our visitors, but our close neighbors, as well. Historically, minority and Indigenous groups have not been well represented in our national parks.”

“There’s a big focus on this now. Rightfully so,” Krause says. “And part of that focus is on tribal partnerships. A lot of formal tribal land is national park land now. We’re trying to improve those relations with local tribes as a result.”

Crash Course: Reintroducing California Condors to Redwood National and State Parks

One of the ways Redwood National and State Parks (REDW) is doing so is through California condor restoration; something that never would’ve happened without the perseverance of the Yurok people.

“The largest tribe in California, the Yurok Tribe, received a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to study whether or not it would be feasible to bring California condors back to this area,” Ranger Steven explains. That was all the way back in 2008 while the tribe was trying to establish a wildlife preserve on its land.

Still, it wouldn’t be until 2016 (during the NPS Centennial) that this proposed REDW reintroduction effort would enter the planning and early funding stages. Public input was addressed by early 2017. By 2019 the project was ready to go but became stifled by the COVID-19 pandemic. 2021 would see huge strides in preparations, and now REDW expects these remarkable birds to arrive by spring 2022.

In spring 2022 condors will return to the Redwoods! In a major effort to restore the California condor population, the National Park Service, Yurok Tribe, California Dept. of Parks and Recreation, National Park Foundation, PG&E and many others have collaborated to reintroduce condors to traditional Yurok territory in Redwood National Park and State Parks.

National Park Service

“Interestingly, our parks are the historical halfway point of where these birds once lived,” Krause continues. “Condors originally went all the way up to British Columbia and all the way down to Baja California in Mexico.”

Even so, “It’s been over a hundred years since a California condor flew over the landscape that is now Redwood National and State Parks,” he cites. “So a lot of people that have moved and settled here over the last century didn’t even know condors existed here. It’s all out of memory.”

‘But the tribes remember. And the tribes are trying to bring back this sacred animal.’

“But the tribes remember,” Ranger Steven emphasizes. “And the tribes are trying to bring back this sacred animal. This species is dear to Indigenous cultures throughout the West. Locally, in addition to the Yurok, the condor’s return is anticipated by the Tolowa, Hupa, Karuk, and Wiyot People as well. As Native Americans work to keep their cultures intact,” thereby saving their languages, traditions, etc., Krause says “the return of this most sacred of animals parallels those endeavors of their cultural revitalization.”

California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus) in the wild. (Photo by: Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

“It’s a really exciting project. Now having said that, people are going to get really excited that we have condors [in 2022], but it’s going to be a while before they’re flying the skies above REDW. Before that time, we can’t have people going off trail in search of them. They’ll be here soon, but they have to get acclimated first. In fact, they’re building the flight pen right now,” Ranger Steven revealed as we spoke. “It’s all in the works!”

Where to See California Condors in the Meantime

Until then, “If people want to experience a California condor in the wild, they can visit any one of the five previous reintroduction sites: (in California) Pinnacles National Park, Ventana Wilderness, and Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge; (in Arizona) Vermillion Cliffs National Monument; (and in Mexico) Parque Nacional de San Pedro Martir,” Ranger Steven offers. “Since condors can fly up to 150 miles in a day, they also soar parks neighboring their reintroduction zones. They have been spotted in Sequoia National Park as well as Grand Canyon and Zion.”

To learn more about the Yurok Tribe firsthand, please visit their official website. And to learn more about Redwood National and State Parks’ California condor reintroduction, visit the NPS’s project page here.

Outsider will be back with more from Ranger Steven Krause for our National Parks Journal soon.