The largest birds in North America once soared across Wallowa County skies. The California condor’s presence here was documented in 1818 by fur trapper Donald McKenzie who observed them soaring over river canyons of Northeast Oregon.
To the Nez Perce (NiMiiPuu) condors are known as qu’nes. Joseph Canyon’s NiMiiPuu name is anaasocum, or “the canyon land--area--where condors used to be,” said Angela Sondenaa, Project Manager of the Precious Lands. “In his account of this landscape, tribal elder Otis Halfmoon describes condors nesting in local caves, which clearly indicates a resident breeding population.”
By the 1980s only 22 condors remained in the US, A major reason for their demise was the lead residue from lead-based ammunition in the carcasses that the big birds would scavenge.
Now, with the proposed upcoming release of the huge birds in Northern California’s Redwoods National Park, the critically endangered species is one step closer to returning to Eastern Oregon skies. The reintroduction sites provide prime condor habitat, with redwood forests and mountain ranges that can provide ample roosting and nest habitat. Inland valleys and mountain top prairies, along with coastline will provide a mixture of land and marine food areas and food resources.
Condors soar to heights of 15,000 feet and might travel up to 150 miles a day in search of their next meal. Their new home in Redwoods National Park lies just about 50 miles south of Oregon.
So it’s likely that if and when the Yurok Tribe and National Park Service release young-adult condors into the wild this spring, their flights will extend into Oregon. These Californian condors will be welcome here. They will certainly explore the Klamath, Siskiyou and southern Cascade Mountains. Crater Lake and Medford are within their flight distance. The big scavengers may range as far as Klamath Falls. Eventually, they may land here.
“For ten years, we have been laying the groundwork to bring the condor back to Yurok Country,” said Joseph L. James, Chairman of the Yurok Tribe. “I am excited about the prospect of seeing the sacred prey-go-neesh soaring over Yurok skies.”
“This reintroduction is another chapter in the story of hope and perseverance that exemplifies condor recovery,” said Steve Mietz, Superintendent of Redwood National Park. “The Yurok Tribe, United States Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Park Service have built a broad coalition of support for condor recovery which will serve as a model for collaborative restoration of this wide ranging species elsewhere.”
To help prepare for the condor’s eventual return to its native Northeast Oregon skies, the 16,268-acre Precious Lands Wildlife Area in Wallowa County’s far-northeastern corner is now requiring the use of non-lead ammunition and fishing tackle. “Lead has unintended and often lethal consequences for avian scavengers, including eagles, vultures and condors,” Sondenaa said. The move will help ensure a healthy habitat and food source for condors and other birds.
The Oregon Zoo is asking Oregonians to get ready for condors, and to support their needs. “If we provide them with everything they need, there’s no reason to think they wouldn’t make their way up to our area as well,” Zoo Deputy Conservation Manager Dr. David Shepherdson said. “We’re asking people to roll out the welcome mat, as it were — only rather than an actual mat, we recommend a week-old, lead-free gutpile.”
The proposal for establishing a northwest condor population will publish in the Federal Register on April 5, 2019, opening a 60-day public comment period. The Service will consider comments from all interested parties received by June 4, 2019. Information on how to submit comments is available at www.regulations.gov by searching under docket number FWS–R1–ES–2018-033.