Condor quandary


A prominent group of biologists and scientists is strongly criticizing conservation plans for Tejon Ranch, a 270,000-acre property north of LA.  The ranch is slated for 30,000 acres of housing, industrial and resort projects -- which will sprawl across roughly 20,000 acres of critical habitat for the endangered California condor. Tejon's developers have asked the Fish and Wildlife Service for permission to "take" more than two dozen imperiled species, including condors (see our brief in "Two Weeks in the West", and our pro and con opinion pieces).

But condor experts, including former leaders and members of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s condor team and federal condor recovery team, have just issued a report saying that the Tejon conservation plan, which attempts to mitigate the development's impact on all those rare species, would be a disaster for the huge birds:


Unfortunately, the Tejon MSHCP proposes actions that will greatly reduce natural food supplies in a very important portion of condor Critical Habitat, and will strongly inhibit condor use of the same area through multiple effects of urbanization. The proposal to mitigate these effects mainly by establishing feeding stations in areas outside Tejon Mountain Village is not consistent with ultimate recovery goals of the conservation effort. Experience with the release program so far gives evidence that feeding stations adversely affect condor foraging behavior and movements and result in detrimental tendencies toward microtrash ingestion and human habituation .... Feeding programs further presuppose a perpetual and expensive, but ultimately unnecessary, obligation to provide a food supply for the birds – an obligation that can be expected to be difficult to maintain continuously in the long term in the face of inherent instability in human institutions. Clearly a population dependent on a long-term feeding program is not a truly self-sustaining population and cannot be considered a fully-recovered population.

The scientists conclude that "placing a major housing development in the midst of the most important historic foraging area known for condors cannot be viewed as anything other than a major threat to recovery of the species."

The condor recovery program costs roughly $5 million per year, and there are only about 150 of the birds soaring the skies (in Southern California, Arizona, Utah and Mexico). In addition to habitat destruction, condors face threats from shooting and from eating lead bullet fragments in carcasses.