An agreement signed by the tribe with wildlife
groups could make Yurok ancestral land California's northernmost
condor release site.
The Yurok name for the bird that soared closest
to the creator and could deliver the people's prayers is "prey-go-neesh."
The English name for the Pleistocene-era throwback
with the 9 1/2-foot wingspan is California condor, and by 1982 there
were just 22 left.
Now, California's largest tribe
has come closer to reuniting with the raptor whose feathers grace
its sacred regalia, while working to revive the species.
An agreement signed by the tribe last month with
the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, the
California Department of Parks and Recreation and the Ventana Wildlife
Society begins a process that could make Yurok ancestral land California's
northernmost condor release site.
The deal resulted from the tribe's extensive
evaluation of habitat and likely food supply carcasses of
marine mammals, downed livestock and bullet-scarred game left behind
"This is the culmination of five years of work
... but our journey is continuing," said wildlife biologist Chris
West, who directs the condor program for the Yurok tribe.
West said California and Oregon wildlife agencies
as well as private landowners will most likely join the effort as
it moves forward.
Though the memorandum of understanding does not
guarantee future release of the birds, it marks the first potential
expansion of the California Condor Recovery Program in more than
"We want to help," said Kelly Sorenson, executive
director of the Ventana Wildlife Society, which began releasing
captive-bred condors on the Big Sur coast 17 years ago. "We have
a lot of faith in the Yurok tribe."
When Europeans arrived in North America, the
raptors' range stretched from British Columbia south to Baja California
and into Arizona and Nevada. By 1900, it had shrunk to Southern
California. Habitat loss, a decimated food supply, poisoning and
power lines were among the causes.
Remaining condors were captured and placed in
captive breeding programs in 1987. Releases began five years later,
first in Ventura and Kern counties, then the Big Sur coast and what
is now Pinnacles National Park. They are also being released in
Arizona and Baja.
The results: Today there are 407 condors alive,
including 128 in the wild in California, said Sorenson.
Yurok land in Del Norte and Humboldt counties
offers an "excellent" area for release because of lower contaminant
levels in the region's marine mammals, among other reasons, he said.
West's team has also been working to educate
hunters about the dangers of lead ammunition the single largest
cause of condor death in the wild and persuade them to switch
to non-lead options. (A California law that bans lead bullets takes
effect in five years.)
Biologist Tiana Williams, a tribal member and
Harvard graduate who works with West, has been striving for condor
reintroduction since 2003.
Regalia for the Jump Dance and White Deerskin
Dance world renewal ceremonies rely on condor feathers
taken as "gifts" from unharmed birds.
Though the tribe has made strides in acquiring
federal permits for feathers, she said, "we need to have condors
back up here living, as the creator has intended, interacting with
us and us with them."