Norton helps release condors |

Norton helps release condors


SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – Interior Secretary Gale Norton’s release of five endangered California condors on Thursday is drawing measured praise from environmentalists, who welcome the move but are skeptical about her commitment to the Endangered Species Act.

Norton’s release of the rare birds is the latest step in a difficult effort to bring the condors back from near-extinction, and environmentalists say the interior secretary’s presence will bring needed attention to the condor program.

”If Ms. Norton wants to highlight the successful acts of endangered species, that’s great,” said Craig Breon, executive director of the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society. ”I worry overall what her record on endangered species will be.”

Norton is a strong supporter of property rights and advocates that the government pay landowners for losses they might suffer from regulations that limit how they can use their land to protect endangered species or their habitats.

But the release of condors into the wild has garnered little opposition, said Kelly Sorenson, assistant director of the Ventana Wilderness Society, the group that’s releasing the five condors into the Ventana Wilderness near Big Sur.

Sorenson recalls one Southern California property owner who was concerned about limits on the use of private land designated as critical habitat for the condor, but both sides were able to work out an agreement that allowed some development.

Condor releases also are done by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Peregrine Fund.

The condors released Thursday will bring the total population in the wild to 51. There are 24 condors in the wild in California. The rest are in Arizona. The condor’s habitat is the coastal mountain ranges from Canada to Mexico, and they nest in caves or crevices on steep cliffs.

The bird, a large scavenger related to the vulture, was first put on the endangered species list in 1967. In 1890, there were an estimated 600 condors, but that number dropped to an all-time low in 1982, when there were only 22 in existence.

To preserve the species, all condors were taken out of the wild, with the last one being caught in 1987. The program to release them back into the wild, primarily in national forests, began in 1992, and now there are a total of 160 in the wild and in captivity.

The goal is to have 150 condors in the wild, with 15 of those being breeding pairs. The condors being released Thursday all are 1 year old.

While the reasons for the condors’ decline are numerous, two major causes were poisoning and shooting. The birds are susceptible to lead poisoning, which they sometimes ingest from carcasses of animals that have been shot.

Also, the condors breed infrequently – laying eggs only every other year.

Since the re-release began, 117 have been sent into the wild, but 42 of those have died and 26 have been brought back into captivity because they had too much interaction with humans.

On the Net:

Ventana Wilderness Society:

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service:

The Peregrine Fund:

AP-WS-04-04-01 1624EDT

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