Left, Condor chick, shown on cover of the first draft of the American Ornithologists Union Audobon Society (AOU) condor program report. The draft reveals that seven condors were exposed to lead, likely on Tejon Ranch Company land, last spring. This was after the ban on lead ammunition in the state had gone into effect. One of the seven died, the others had to be taken for treatment. Inset, Ileene Anderson from the Center for Biological Diversity shows the soaring 9.5 foot wingspan of the California condor. Right, a composite of photos from Richard Dickey and Noel Snyder. Snyder is the scientist who was responsible for habitat studies of the California condor, prior to the entire remaining population of the endangered species were brought into zoos for a captive breeding program. Only 22 of the uniquely intelligent birds were left in the world in 1986. Thay began to be reintroduced to the wild in year 2000. They were found to be vulnerable to the effects of lead poisoning from ammunition fragments left by hunters in carcasses and "gut piles."
1 Died, 6 More Sickened From Lead, Report Says
By Patric Hedlund
“California condors have rediscovered the Tejon,” Dr. Noel Snyder said this week as he was being interviewed regarding a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service draft environmental impact statement (EIS) about Tejon Mountain Village. He expressed some hope that condors may be able to fly free and wild once again in California—and even that they can coexist with a slightly modified Tejon Mountain Village—if their critical habitat is strictly preserved.
Snyder is the scientist whose work is most often mentioned in a study being prepared by The American Ornithologists’ Union and Audubon California about the epic condor recovery project. The final version will not be issued until after May 2009, but the first draft tells about the death of a second endangered California condor (another was shot there in 2003 by a hunter) and the lead exposure of six others—all in 2008—from incidents suspected to have taken place on Tejon Ranch Company land, according to the draft report. All seven were taken for treatment. Lead isotope signature studies are being conducted to learn more about the source, USFWS Condor Recovery Program Coordinator Jesse Grantham said in an interview, Tuesday, Feb. 18.
Grantham explained, “We had GPS units on 13 condors at that time and 11 had been on Tejon Ranch in April and May. We had quite a few birds using Tejon Ranch in April, and that is when we started trapping the birds and found elevated lead levels. We didn’t see any [location] hits for any area other than Bitter Creek refuge which is clean of any lead.
We notified Tejon and said we have a spike in bird use of their area and that some had fallen ill. They responded by shutting down the hunting program.”
“We had only 11 birds wearing GPS units on Tejon. We have 20 birds that don’t have GPS units, and you don’t know where they are, but where you find some of these birds, you’ll find more. They are very social.
Tejon spokesman Barry Zoeller said in an email February 9, “Working with the Service, we provided temporary supplemental feeding stations for condors while at the same time reviewing all our policies and procedures to both ensure 100% compliance with the use of non-lead ammunition and to better secure the Ranch from potential poachers. This was important because the report concluded that ‘it is essential that hunters continue to harvest deer, pigs and other wildlife throughout the condor range using non-lead ammunition, so that a clean source of wild food is available to condors beyond food subsidies.’
“We are confident that our hunters are in 100% compliance with our regulations and understand the important role hunting with non-lead ammunition plays in condor recovery.”
To that point, the accounts from Zoeller and the scientists agree.
But then Zoeller said: “Tejon Ranch is not a principal foraging area for the condor. According to USFWS GPS data covering an eight-year period, from 2000 to 2008, less than 1% of all condor GPS “hits” occurred within the area of Tejon Mountain Village. Those “hits” represent a condor either perched, foraging or flying over the area.”
Snyder reminds us that the captive breeding release program only started in year 2000, and that Tejon Ranch Company filed a lawsuit almost immediately to try to prohibit the USFWS from releasing the largest birds in North America near their historic foraging grounds on Tejon. None were released nearby, yet the matriarch bird AC-8 returned quickly to the areas where she had foraged for 40 years before the captive breeding program began. Though she was shot on Tejon land before she could teach younger birds, in 2008 they found Tejon—their gateway to the Sierra Nevada—for themselves.
Grantham explains, “This is a bird that is totally dependent on moving, rising air to survive. It is not a flapping bird, it soars. We think they evolved in this very area. They move from place to place to follow the best wind and air conditions. Even though these are captive-bred birds, when they are released, eventually they go right back to where the habitat is right for them.”
Snyder says that the highest elevations above the site proposed for Tejon Mountain Village, designated as critical condor habitat in the 1970s, is “the hub” for condors to be able to live as wild birds again.
This is part of the February 20, 2009 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.
Have an opinion on this matter? We'd like to hear from you.