Photo: Gavin Emmons, National Parks Service


In the coming weeks, after years of exhaustive collaborative planning by the Yurok Tribe, the National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife, four young California condors are set to be released into North Coast skies, nearly 100 years after the local population disappeared as the result of human incursion.

For Tiana Williams-Claussen, a Yurok tribal member and director of the tribe’s Wildlife Department, the condor’s reintroduction into Yurok territory is the culmination of a process she helped set into motion back in 2008 after returning home following her graduation from Harvard University. She considers this to be her “life’s work” and can hardly believe the big day is almost here.

“It seems almost unreal,” Williams-Claussen told Here and Now as part of an interview you can hear by clicking the player above. “What keeps striking me is when I’m driving along the highway, for example, through the mountain ways or along the coast, along the canyons, and I’ll see see a turkey vulture in the air … and I can just see a condor flying through what I know is their ancestral home. Really what I’m envisioning is that moment when [condors] are just a part of our life again and I can at any point just look up and see them in the sky.”

It’s the latest chapter in the California condor’s unlikely success story. The largest land birds in North America, with wingspans approaching 10 feet, California condors once faced extinction before efforts were made to protect them leading to a miraculous population resurgence for the species. The following information on the bird’s saga comes from a U.S. Fish and Wildlife release on the project:

California condors prehistorically ranged from California to Florida and, in contemporary times, from Western Canada to Northern Mexico. By the mid-20th century, condor populations drastically declined due to poaching and poisoning. In 1967, the California condor was listed as endangered. In 1982, only 23 condors survived worldwide. By 1987, all remaining wild condors were placed into a captive breeding program. Thus, began an intensive recovery program to save the species from extinction.

As a result of exemplary conservation partnerships, and intensive captive breeding and reintroduction efforts, there are now over 300 California condors in the wild in California, Arizona, Utah and Baja California. However, the bird is still listed as endangered and lead poisoning (largely caused by ingesting lead shot or fragments of lead bullets when feeding on carcasses) is listed as one of the species’ primary threats.

As for our soon-to-be local population, after the initial four condors are released in Redwood National Park this spring, the plan going forward is to release even more birds in the future.

“We will actually be adding about six birds per year for the next 20 years,” Williams-Claussen said. “This first cohort is super important. They are going to be the leaders of everyone who comes after.”

To read more about the Yurok Tribe’s Condor Progam click here.