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Photo by Michelle Magdalena. Faux stone masonry, geometric arches, elegant red tents, brocade couches and a wood-inlay dance floor were among the extravagant touches at the Sean Parker-Alexandra Lenas wedding at the Ventana Inn campground.
Tech Magnate's controversial Big Sur wedding generates wave of conservation grants
Looks like the notorious Sean Parker wedding has a fairy-tale ending.
Sixteen months ago, the Napster cofounder and former Facebook president made national headlines for his lavish Big Sur wedding, which violated the California Coastal Act. Now he and his wife, Alexandra Parker, have awarded almost $1.4 million of a $2.5 million Coastal Commission settlement to conservation and environmental education projects in the Big Sur area.
The Parkers married June 1, 2013, at a forested campground at Ventana Inn & Spa. They formed an LLC to manage the wedding and spent millions turning the redwood grove into a medieval-style fantasy set.
But their team overlooked one important detail: a coastal development permit for the construction. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the Parkers, Ventana Inn was sitting on a six-year-old Coastal Act violation of its own: the unpermitted closure of its public campground.
In a settlement with the Coastal Commission, Parker agreed to pay $2.5 million toward Big Sur conservation and coastal-access projects. Ventana Inn settled separately, agreeing to a slate of public-access improvements.
On Oct. 2, the Coastal Commission announced the first Parker grants:
• $345,000 for Save the Redwoods League’s rehabilitation of the Pfeiffer Falls Trail, which was damaged in the 2008 Basin Complex Fire;
• $250,000 for Ventana Wildlife Society’s outdoor programming for underserved youth;
• $200,000 for California State University’s initiative connecting marginalized children, youth and their families with the Monterey County coast;
• $185,000 for Ventana Wilderness Alliance’s trail restoration and maintenance in the Silver Peak Wilderness;
• $184,000 for Rancho Cielo’s quarterly camping trips for at-risk youth;
• $75,000 for Big Sur Charter School’s coastal education programs;
• $75,000 for Coastwalk California, a collaborative mapping platform for the planned Coastal Trail; and
• $75,000 for California Coastal Conservancy’s trail improvements for Garrapata State Park.
Alena Porte, education coordinator for Ventana Wildlife Society, says the Parker grant will allow VWS to hire a new staffer and buy a new van, expanding its education programs by 300 underserved youth annually for four years.
“It’s wonderful we were able to benefit from this,” she says. “These kids don’t have the financial means to access these programs.”
Parker spokesman Michael Holland says the Parkers and commission staff will decide how to allocate the remaining $111,000 in available grant funding.
Another $1 million from the settlement, according to Coastal Commission Enforcement Analyst John Del Arroz, is being held in a separate remediation account, administered by the California Coastal Conservancy, for other Monterey County conservation projects.
Assemblyman Mark Stone, D-Scotts Valley, a former Coastal Commissioner, says the Parker grants are the constructive outcome of a bad situation.
“Oftentimes when fines like this happen, the money doesn’t get back into the community,” he says. “To be able to put money back into the same community that cares so much about coastal resources is a very positive thing.”
Oakland Zoo's facility for poisoned condors gets 1st patient
Updated 12:19 pm, Wednesday, May 7, 2014
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Ventana, designated as No. 444 in the California condor recovery program, is being treated for lead poisoning at the Oakland Zoo. Photo: Paul Chinn, The Chronicle | Buy this photo
The big, black vulture, its yellowish-orange eyes bulging, stared at its visitors through a tiny window in the enclosure at the Oakland Zoo.
It was a penetrating look, as if the bird knew something that you didn't know. Unusual intelligence is, in fact, a characteristic of the California condor, said Andrea Goodnight, the associate veterinarian at the zoo.
"She knows we are here," whispered Goodnight about No. 444, the first lead-poisoned bird to be treated at the zoo's newCondor Recovery Center. "They are very smart birds."
The 16-pound bird, with a 9.5-foot wingspan, was driven to the Oakland zoo on Thursday from Pinnacles National Park after field biologists captured her and tests detected high levels of lead in her blood.
The vulture, nicknamed Ventana, is an example of a serious environmental problem. Condors are especially susceptible to lead poisoning. The problem is that hunters and ranchers shoot vermin with lead shot. The bullet holes in the carcasses turn out to be perfect entry points for the vultures, which end up feeding where the highest concentrations of lead are.
Researchers say nearly every bird they test in Big Sur and the Pinnacles has some lead in its system, including one that was recently found with an entire .22 slug in its digestive tract. An average of 2 out of every 3 condors tested in Big Sur have had lead levels high enough to require emergency treatment.
Shorter trip for help
And that's where the Oakland Zoo comes in. The sick birds have historically been driven to the Los Angeles Zoo, an arduous eight-hour trek from the two primary Northern California condor breeding grounds in the Pinnacles and Big Sur. Oakland is two hours away, a crucial time savings for a sick condor.
The 900-square-foot treatment center is the first condor rehabilitation center in the Bay Area. Goodnight and four other members of the zoo staff have been training with Ventana Wildlife Society field biologists and Los Angeles Zoo staff for two years preparing for their first patient.
The facility can hold up to eight endangered vultures, but Goodnight said the number will be limited to two until the staff is more experienced handling the sensitive birds.
Condor No. 444 was actually born in Big Sur in 2007 and raised in the wild by foster parents (her egg was surreptitiously placed in their nest). She is the oldest living wild-raised chick in the Central California flock. Her nickname is Ventana because her foster parents were released by the Ventana Wildlife Society.
Ventana eventually flew the coop and found her way to the Pinnacles, where she hooked up with a handsome bald-headed buzzard known as No. 340. She built a nest last year and was spotted sitting on an egg, but it never hatched, Goodnight said.
"It's kind of a bittersweet thing that the bird is here," said Goodnight, who is not sure if lead poisoning contributed to the nesting failure. "We're very excited, but it is sad that the bird is sick."
Condors began to die off in the 19th century. Some were shot, but many were poisoned by lead left by hunters in the entrails of carcasses. Condors, with splayed, fingerlike wing tips and wingspans of up to 10 feet, were listed as a federally endangered species in 1967, and by 1987 there were so few left in the wild that measures had to be taken to save them.
The last 27 California condors left in the wild were captured and placed in a breeding program. The Big Sur and Pinnacles flocks are the result of that program. There are now 232 condors in the wild, about 60 of them in the two flocks at the Pinnacles and Big Sur, all of them with VHF transmitters and about a third equipped with GPS tracking devices.
The number of condor deaths from lead poisoning has been rising dramatically despite the recent passage of a law banning hunters from using lead ammunition. The law, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2013, doesn't go into effect until July 2019.
The biggest problem is that the birds cannot reproduce fast enough to make up for the numbers that are dying from lead poisoning, researchers said.
Ventana received what is called chelation therapy for the past five days. She will be released inside Pinnacles National Park once the lead level in her blood returns to normal.
The California condor can be watched up close via a Zoo webcam located inside the rehabilitation enclosure: http://bit.ly/1onUPF2.
Peter Fimrite is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail:email@example.com Twitter: @pfimrite
First California condor webcam in the wild goes live in Big Sur
By Paul Rogers
POSTED: 10/21/2013 05:37:59 PM PDT |
For years, it's been a rare experience to see an endangered California condor in the wild. There are only 429 of North America's largest bird alive today, and half of them live in zoos.
But on Monday, with some high-tech help, the bird watching got a lot easier. The first camera to capture live streaming video of condors in the wild was turned on in the remote hills of Big Sur.
The solar-powered "condor cam" allows the public to watch the huge, vulture-like birds feeding, grooming and flying in real time, and enables scientists to monitor them more efficiently.
It's the latest example of how inexpensive video technology and high-speed Internet connections are changing the way the public interacts with wildlife -- from sea otters at the Monterey Bay Aquarium to pandas at Washington, D.C.'s National Zoo.
Two California condors fly above McWay Rocks at Big Sur on the California coast.
(Tim Huntington/Ventana Wildlife Society)
"We put the camera right on top of one of the main feeding areas so we could zoom down and get identification of each individual," said Kelly Sorenson, executive director of the Ventana Wildlife Society, a nonprofit that has worked to bring condors back from the brink of extinction.
"Over the weekend when we were testing it, we had 25 condors in front of the camera."
The condor cam can be watched on the group's website, www.ventanaws.org.
Several times a week, biologists who work at the organization put out stillborn calves on the site, a 240-acre property surrounded by wilderness in the Los Padres National Forest of Monterey County. Several condors were seen Monday morning on the live camera eating and preening.
Biologists from the group will zoom in on the birds at key times, such as in the morning when they are most active, Sorenson said. They also plan to ask the public to send notifications on the Ventana Wildlife Society's Facebook and Twitter feeds when birds are doing something interesting.
It wasn't easy setting up the camera. The area is so rural that there is no electricity or Internet connection. The system, which cost about $15,000, Sorenson said, was funded by a donation from FedEx and help from the Oakland Zoo. Crews installed a high-speed T1 Internet connection at a home 12 miles north of the site, then set up antennas to get the signal to the solar-powered camera.
On Wednesday at noon, biologists will be releasing three condors on camera that were raised in captivity. When they aren't releasing birds, the new video footage can help scientists see how condors are feeding, or whether they are exhibiting signs of lead poisoning from eating dead animals with lead bullet fragments in them. "We have to drive one-and-a-half hours up a dirt road behind five locked gates just to get to this place," Sorenson said. "It's an all-day thing. So this is an amazing tool for us to help monitor condors in the wild."
The marriage of Silicon Valley and "Wild Kingdom" is part of a national trend at zoos, aquariums and other wildlife hot spots.
Since 2011, the Monterey Bay Aquarium has received 2.8 million views on its three most popular animal cams: the sea otter exhibit, the kelp forest tank and the aquarium's vast open ocean exhibit.
"We want people to be amazed and inspired by the animals," said aquarium spokesman Ken Peterson. "If people can't physically be in the buildings, they still have a chance to stay connected with them. It's like visiting old friends."
At the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, four webcams receive nearly 300,000 page views a year. As with the aquarium, anyone can watch animals being fed at regular times every day, and can listen to experts, such as when divers enter the academy's colorful coral reef tank.
Wild animals don't always do cute and cuddly things. In fact, the Ventana Wildlife Society website has a note saying, "Viewer discretion advised. May contain graphic feeding images."
And in San Jose, the camera that has streamed images of peregrine falcons in a nest on the 18th floor of City Hall, though currently down for repairs, has shown the falcons eating dead pigeons, and was recording when several of the 25 chicks born there since 2007 died.
"It's not the Disney Channel," said Michelle McGurk, a spokesman for San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed. "But it has created a lot of enthusiasm -- particularly among children -- about biology and science and nature. It's really exciting."
Paul Rogers covers resources and environmental issues. Contact him at 408-920-5045. Follow him at Twitter.com/PaulRogersSJMN.
AP Exclusive: Study: rare condors harmed
AP Exclusive: Study finds Big Sur condor reproduction being harmed by banned pesticide DDT
By Jason Dearen, Associated Press | Associated Press
This July 21, 2012, photo released by the Ventana Wildlife Society shows a condor in flight in Big Sur, Calif. In the coastal redwood forests of Big Sur, scientists seeking to solve a mystery about why dozens of endangered condors are having problems reproducing think they have uncovered the culprit: the banned pesticide DDT. (AP Photo/Ventana Wildlife Society, Tim Huntington)
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- In the coastal redwood forests of central California, scientists trying to unravel the mystery surrounding the reproductive problems of dozens of endangered condors think they have uncovered the culprit: the long-banned pesticide DDT.
The soaring scavengers with wingspans wider than NBA players are tall were reintroduced to the rugged coast of Big Sur in 1997 after a century-long absence. Upon arrival, the birds found plenty to eat, with dead California sea lions and other marine mammals littering the craggy shoreline.
While a good food source, sea lion blubber often has high levels of DDT, a pesticide banned in 1972 that has proven to be a persistent pollutant because it accumulates in bodies of creatures throughout the food chain when animals eat one another.
Once used widely in agriculture, DDT was banned because it is a human toxin considered a possible carcinogen by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Kelly Sorenson, executive director of Ventana Wildlife Society and a co-author of a new study on condors, said researchers who spent six years studying their reproductive problems have "established a strong link" to DDT in the birds' food source.
The peer-reviewed paper written by 10 condor experts, including biologists from the Los Angeles and Santa Barbara zoos and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is being published this month in the University of California journal "The Condor."
"In science, rarely is anything definitive but we've established a strong link between ... DDT and eggshell thinning in California condors," Sorenson told the Associated Press.
The eggshell mystery began in 2006, when a biologist inspecting a condor nest in the cavity of a redwood tree on the central California coast found the first thin shell.
Over the next six years, the scientists observed condors feeding on dozens of sea lions, and found that the Big Sur condor population had a low hatching success — just 20-40 percent — for 16 nesting pairs. In contrast, 70-80 percent of southern California condors in the Tejon area had hatched successfully over the same time. The southern California condors are inland, and sea lions are not a food source.
Biologists familiar with the ravages of DDT in bird populations immediately suspected the widely used pesticide as a factor.
Tests since the 1970s have found high levels of DDT in sea lions; and studies have linked DDT's metabolized version, DDE, to egg shell thinning in birds, including brown pelicans and bald eagles.
The condor study attributed at least eight of 16 egg failures to thinning from DDT. One shell found crushed in a nest was 54-percent thinner than normal. Thinning can also allow bacteria to more easily enter the eggs.
But why did the sea lions have such high DDT levels in the first place?
The scientists theorize that the sea mammals were exposed when they migrated to the central coast from southern California, where the Montrose Chemical Corp. dumped DDT with impunity for decades until the 1970s. The Montrose plant and the ocean off Palos Verdes where it dumped DDT are now listed as Environmental Protection Agency "Superfund" sites.
"A vast majority of California sea lions have spent at least a portion of their lives in the waters of southern California, which is the most DDT-contaminated coastal environment in the world," Sorenson said. "Northward movements of sea lions provide a pathway of DDT to condors in central California."
The study's authors and other experts agree that lead ammunition, not DDT, is the main threat to the survivability of condors. But Jesse Grantham, a former condor program coordinator for Fish and Wildlife who did not participate in the study, called the paper's findings helpful scientific evidence that will add to the overall picture of threats facing condor recovery.
Another former condor program manager, Noel Snyder, was critical of the DDT study, however.
He said it only looks closely at one potential cause of reproductive problems — DDT — and fails to properly evaluate the potential effects of other contaminants and factors that may be involved and more important.
"DDT is not the only thing that causes eggshell thinning, and the authors of the paper don't present a significant correlation of DDT with the thinning found, and thus do not do a convincing job of linking DDT with the happenings in Big Sur."
Study author and Ventana wildlife biologist Joe Burnett defended the team's work, saying all data pointed to the pesticide as the problem.
"We collected data on many different environmental toxins but none, other than DDE, were even in the ballpark known to cause reproductive failure in birds," Burnett said.
In the final analysis, the study's authors say the DDT problem will fade over time.
"Like bald eagles and other bird species previously affected by DDT, the thickness of condor eggshells should recover as contamination declines in the coastal environment," said co-author Robert Risebrough, an expert on the effects of DDT on birds.
Follow Jason Dearen on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/JHDearen
With the permission of the University of California Press, we post on our website our paper 'complete citation' that is in press in The Condor. We thank UC Press for this courtesy.
Kelly Sorenson: Ventana Wildlife Society's listing by NRA disappoints
By KELLY SORENSON
Kelly Sorenson: Ventana Wildlife Society's listing by NRA disappoints
I was raised in rural West Virginia, where deer hunting was a major part of everyone's life. Hunting, fishing and shooting were things we often did when I was young, and of course we used lead ammunition and tackle because that's all that was available.
I grew up with a sense of country, pride and tradition. Imagine my disappointment, then, when I found out Aug. 5 that the organization I have led for the 10 years, the Ventana Wildlife Society, along with others such as San Diego Zoo Global and the Los Angeles Zoo, were listed as "anti-hunting" groups by the National Rifle Association because we support the use of nonlead ammunition. We tried to find an additional information source, but couldn't, which may mean this was a mistake or perhaps it has been retracted.
Ask yourself, why would the anti-lead agenda be considered an attack on hunting when condors benefit from carcasses and remains left behind by hunters and ranchers? Lead from spent ammunition is often ingested by California condors and is well-documented as the leading threat to their survival in the wild. In fact, so many peer-reviewed papers have been published in the past few decades indicating that lead from spent ammunition is a significant threat to wildlife that, in the case of the condor, the current controversy is just counter-productive.
For a few species, such as the condor, survival in the presence of lead contamination is impossible without human intervention. The reason is that lead ammunition is so prevalent in the carcasses condors eat that it is only a matter of time before they die.
I've heard from people that they doubt condors can survive in today's society, but similar to bald eagles and their nemesis, DDT, the ammunition issue can be resolved. If enough hunters and ranchers in key areas switch to nonlead ammunition, the threat will go away immediately.
It is true that about $5 million is being spent annually on condor recovery, but about two-thirds comes from private sources. In the case of the Ventana Wildlife Society, only 5 percent of our spending on condors come from taxpayers. Through the efforts of many, the total condor population has increased from 22 birds to now over 400.
The fear is that eliminating lead bullets would amount to a ban on hunting, but that hasn't happened in the area where non-lead ammo is required. Not even close. Condors are still being poisoned because of lack of compliance with current law caused by an insufficient amount of alternative ammo on the market. Was paint or gasoline banned when lead was removed from these products? Of course not, and neither will hunting, just as waterfowl hunting in the 1990s continued despite the ban on lead shot.
At Ventana Wildlife Society, we gave out free nonlead ammunition, costing us about 5 percent of our annual revenue. The program is funded by private donors and the Monterey County Fish and Game Advisory Commission, from fines.
The society believes this is an effective approach and we encourage federal and state wildlife agencies to duplicate it on broader scales.
I have spent 17 years working to save the California condor and before that the bald eagle. We know what needs to be done and that success is within reach. We need to find incentives for private landowners to help with the condor. To our Monterey and San Benito County neighbors who advance the conservation tradition of hunters and ranchers by using nonlead ammunition, we say keep hunting! It is up to this generation to decide if the condor will remain in this constant state of emergency lead, or if it will live free in the wild again.
Kelly Sorenson is the executive director of the Ventana Wildlife Society.
Monterey County Weekly
Thursday, June 29, 2006 12:00 am| Updated: 3:20 pm, Fri May 17, 2013.
By Ryan Masters
Ventana Wildlife Society is again giving away non-lead ammunition to big-game hunters in Monterey County,just as it did last year.
"One-third of all condors that have died perished due to ingestion of lead,” VWS Executive Director Kelly Sorenson states. “Over and over we find lead bullets in the digestive system of condors, so we know the source to be primarily from ammunition.”
VWS stresses the point that hunting is not the problem. In fact, hunting with nonlead ammo can benefit scavengers like condors by leaving carcasses as a food source.
Scavenger Hunt: Wing and a Prayer: California condors appear healthy for now, but cumulative lead exposure could threaten their fragile population later.
Another bill now on hold in the state Senate, AB 711, would expand the lead ammo ban beyond condor range to all of California. The bill is co-sponsored by Audubon California, the Humane Society and Defenders of Wildlife.
VWS isn’t directly involved in that bill. “We’re trying to reach the locals who will have a direct and positive impact on condors if they use lead-free bullets,” Sorenson says.
Enter the raffle before July 15 at http://ventanaws.org. After verifying that entrants are at least 18 years of age and live in Monterey County, VWS will pay for one box per household, up to 200 boxes, at outdoor store Cabela’s.
The raffle is supported by the Monterey County Fish and Game Advisory Commission and private donors.
Actor finds condor nest, worries about military helicopters
By Chris Counts
FOR the folks at the Ventana Wildlife Society — which successfully reintroduced the California condor to central
California — the recent discovery of a nesting pair of condors in a remote part of southern Monterey County was a cause for celebration.
"It's very important," declared Kelly Sorenson, executive director of the Salinas-based nonprofit. "We've found a total of eight nests on the Central Coast this year, and that's the most we've ever found."
Two decades ago, the condor was nearly wiped out in California, and today there are only 67 condors living in the wild in Monterey and San Luis Obispo counties, and only 232 in the Northern Hemisphere.
The nest — which is located on U.S. Forest Service land — was sighted by actor Timothy Bottoms, who owns a ranch nearby. "When I first met Tim 17 years ago, he predicted condors would one day nest in the area," Sorenson said.
In a post he made April 27 on the Network — which provides a forum for local and regional environmental issues — Bottoms said he's worried military aircraft are "harassing" condors, as well as creating a nuisance over his ranch. He identified the culprits as "United States Army Cobra attack helicopters" and suggested they had strayed from Fort Hunter Liggett.
Fort Hunter Liggett spokeswoman Susan Clizby told The Pine Cone the helicopters actually belong to the Marine Corps. When asked if it is possible to have them avoid the condor nesting area, she said, "I spent all day yesterday trying to answer that question." According to Clizby, Fort Hunter Liggett only has jurisdiction over the 24,000 vertical feet above the base's 165,000 acres. So if aircraft stray beyond those boundaries, complaints need to addressed to the pilots' commanders. She said she's trying to do just that.
Clizby insisted officials at Fort Hunter Liggett are committed to protecting condors and other endangered species, as well as the property's cultural resources, such as Native American sites. She noted that the reservation is home to the state's second largest elk herd, and lead bullets for hunting purposes — the greatest threat to condors, Sorenson observed — are banned.
"We really care about the environment," she said. "We want to be a good neighbor." Sorenson agreed Fort Hunter Liggett has been a good neighbor, and given his group's mission, he should know. "Our job is to closely monitor those nests and help them succeed," he explained. "When they fail, we try to found out why and solve the problem."
According to Sorenson, by far the greatest threat condors face is lead bullets, not military aircraft. "No pilot wants to go anywhere near a 10-foot bird." Meanwhile, Sorenson is thrilled about the nest Bottoms found. "We're confident there's either an egg or a chick in the nest," he added. "We think an egg hatched within the last week or two. The two condors are acting like a couple egg just hatched."
April 28, 2013
California moves forward on legislation to ban lead bullets
News sources on Sunday, April 28 reported that a bill introduced by Assembly Member Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood, to ban lead bullets statewide in California passed on a 9-5 vote in the Assembly's Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee.
The use of lead bullets is prohibited in eight counties with endangered California condors. The bill would make the prohibition statewide in scope. Across the country, there are two dozen states with partial bans on the use of lead bullets, usually in sensitive wildlife refuges.
Rendon contends there is no safe level of lead for human consumption and has been watching the legislation closely. It now goes to the appropriations committee before going to the Democrat-controlled legislature for the final round of voting.
Health and environmental groups have highlighted the recent death from lead poisoning of a nine-year old California Condor near the Big Sur coast. It was found to have lead fragments in its craw when a necropsy was performed. The death of a golden eagle near Sacremento was also attributed to lead poisoning.
Will a ban on lead bullets save the California condor?
Looking at both sides: Proponents have their say
Supporters of the bill stress that the future of the California condor recovery program still hangs in the balance, and using lead poisoning as the only issue has not proven effective in getting a statewide ban on lead bullets in the past.
Looking to grab the public's attention, health officials are arguing that lead bullet fragments in game animals like deer are neurotoxins that can harm children and developing fetuses. Proponents of the ban on lead bullets say it's not just about the health of our wildlife population, it's about the health of the human population and the health of the environment.
Proponents also cite a 2008 study done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the North Dakota Department of Public Health that concluded that "lead was so prevalent in meat harvested through hunting that pregnant women and children should never eat it."
Looking at both sides: What the opponents say
The National Rifle Association (NRA), along with other gun advocate groups adamantly oppose the legislation banning lead bullets statewide. They contend the passage of the bill would ultimately lead to harsher gun controls and possibly end hunting all together in the Golden State.
Another interesting argument put forward by the NRA is that should the legislation pass, and hunters have to use lead-free ammunition such as tungsten or copper bullets, they could technically be in violation of federal firearms regulations which bars armor-piercing ammunition.
The California Condor
The fight to save this prehistoric bird has been filled with frustration and heartache. Americas largest bird, the California Condor narrowly escaped extinction in the mid-1980s when their numbers dropped to a mere 22 birds. Every single condor was captured and put into a captive breeding program.
Through the efforts of many dedicated wildlife advocates and the recovery program, by 2007 there were more than 140 captive-bred condors flying free in California and Arizona. Sadly, more than 40 percent of all the released condors have either died or been returned to captivity.
Because the condor is a carrion eater, it's understandable that lead poisoning is what has decimated the condor population. But the mistaken belief that condors killed cattle also led to their demise. With condors being shot by poachers, ranchers and people out to have some fun, lead poisoning seems to pale beside the other ways they have been killed.
March 15, 2012, 3:14 PM
Zeroing In on Lead in Hunters' Bullets
By DOUGLAS M. MAIN
A California condor soars over the hills of Big Sur after being treated for lead poisoning and re-released.
Citing risks to birds and to human health, roughly 100 environmental groups formally asked the federal Environmental Protection Agency this week to ban or at least impose limits on lead in the manufacturing of bullets and shotgun pellets for hunting or recreation.
The use of such ammo by hunters puts about 3,000 pounds of lead into the environment annually and causes the death of 20 million birds each year from lead poisoning, said Jeff Miller, a conservation advocate at one of the groups, the Center for Biological Diversity. Consumption of meat from animals that are shot with lead bullets also contributes unacceptable levels of the metal into people's diets, Mr. Miller said in a phone interview.
The ban sought by environmental groups would not apply to ammunition used by law enforcement and the military. In addition to bullets and pellets used in hunting and recreational activity like range shooting, the petition seeks to limit the use of the metal in fishing tackle and weights.
A similar request was denied by the E.P.A. in August 2010. But Mr. Miller said that the new petition includes a larger consortium of groups, including some made up of hunters, and cites recent research demonstrating that the toxic levels of lead in bullets and shot cause significant poisoning of birds nationwide.
One of the species most at risk from lead is the endangered California condor, a scavenger that may ingest lead while eating the remains of animals shot with lead bullets, federal and state wildlife and park officials say.. The lead pellets within shotgun shells also closely resemble "grit," pebbles consumed by many species of birds that are necessary for digestion.
Widespread accidental ingestion of these pellets by waterfowl led to a 1991 federal ban on the use of lead in ammunition used to hunt water birds.
"The use of lead bullets and shot causes the unintended poisoning of all kinds of birds," Mr. Miller said in an interview. "Since there are good alternatives that are coming down in price, there's no reason not to switch to nontoxic gear."
But Lawrence Keane, senior vice president of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the trade association for the firearms industry, countered that a ban on lead would cause ammunition prices to skyrocket. Currently 95 percent of the ammunition used for recreation and hunting in the United States contains lead, he said, and there is no ready alternative at a similar price. Besides, he said, lead is useful for ballistic properties like its malleability.
But Anthony Prieto, a hunter who lives in Santa Barbara, Calif. and leads Project Gutpile, a group that advocates non-lead ammunition and is party to the petition, said that copper bullets work just fine. "I've had no problem with copper bullets for the last 13 years," he said. "And it doesn't fragment like lead does."
Mr. Prieto said he normally opposes bans of this sort. But after working to preserve the California condor and seeing several animals die of unintended lead poisoning, he said, he felt the need to take a stand.
"I just got tired of it," said Mr. Prieto, who recently wrote about the issue in an opinion piece in The New York Times. "You have to do something to wake people up."
Mr. Keane of the shooting-sports foundation said the groups lacked sufficient evidence to show that the use of lead in bullets has had a population-level effect on birds. Furthermore, he argues, regulating ammunition does not fall within the E.P.A.'s jurisdiction.
Indeed, in turning down the Center for Biological Diversity's 2010 petition, the E.P.A. cited a clause in the Toxic Substances Control Act that specifically exempts ammunition from regulation. But the petitioners point out that the E.P.A. has the authority to regulate the manufacture of certain materials that are used in ammunition and that it should so so because the lead in ammo presents an unreasonable health risk to humans and wildlife.
A bill that directly opposes the petition is already working its way through the House of Representatives. Known as the Hunting, Fishing, and Recreational Shooting Protection Act, it would specify that the Toxic Substances Control Act's exemption on regulating ammunition also prevents the E.P.A. from regulating the components of bullets and pellets. It was recently approved by the House Committee on Natural Resources but has not yet come to a vote on the House floor.
Mr. Keane said his group would not oppose regulation of ammunition components if a need for change were "conclusively demonstrated by science." However, he maintains that any such rules should be issued by the Fish and Wildlife Service or state wildlife regulators, not by the E.P.A. "This is not the E.P.A.'s sandbox," he said.
But Mr. Prieto and the other petitioners point out that lead has been removed from many products because of health concerns. "We've taken lead out of gasoline, plumbing and toys," he said. "There's no reason to keep using it in ammunition."
Researchers tried to resuscitate a bald eagle that ate a bird shot with lead bullets and then developed lead poisoning. Photo: University of Minnesota
Original article here: http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/03/15/zeroing-in-on-lead-in-hunters-bullets/
New bird in town: Rare California condors hang out on San Jose's Mount Hamilton
By Lisa M. Krieger
Mercury News @ Copyright 2011, Bay Area News Group
Posted: 06/23/2011 05:37:29 PM PDT
Updated: 06/24/2011 10:03:00 AM PDT
A condor on one of the Lick Observatory domes atop Mt. Hamilton. (Peter E. Hart)
Only 20 miles east of downtown San Jose, five endangered California condors have been sighted above Mount Hamilton, socializing with turkey vultures and perching atop a Lick Observatory dome.
A historic event, it is the first time in a century that the huge, wild birds -- with 10-foot wingspans -- have lingered in Bay Area skies, where they once thrived but vanished because of lead poisoning, hunting and habitat destruction. They are now among the world's rarest birds.
The flock is believed to have flown north on Monday from its home at Pinnacles National Monument, site of a major breeding program. One male bird ventured even farther, into southern Alameda County. Sightings continued until Wednesday afternoon
-- a three-day visit. Although one has since returned to Pinnacles, others may still be in the area, biologists said.
"It is a blessing. It feels like something's right in the world," Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society director Bob Power said. "Of the entire world's population, 2.5 percent decided to come be special guest stars in our county."
Keith Baker, principal telescope technician at the University of California's Lick Observatory, described the birds as he watched them on Tuesday morning, resting on the metallic fire lookout at Mount Hamilton's Copernicus Peak, 4,360 feet high.
"They all appear healthy and acting a bit like youngsters; I watched one individual walk around and push another condor off the roof. It had to glide around a bit before landing again," he wrote in an email. "Great Stuff! "
"They have been flying around with a large bunch of TVs (turkey vultures) for part of the morning," Baker wrote. At the observatory, "most of the residents have been notified and have seen them, but so far, are keeping a respectful distance."
Three birds are familiar personalities to wildlife biologist Joe Burnett of the Ventana Wildlife Society, a nonprofit organization that has expanded condor populations through its Pinnacles-based reintroduction project.
A condor near Mt. Hamilton, one of five that have been spotted there. (Peter E. Hart)
Based on wing tags and GPS transmitter data, Burnett identified "499," a 2-year-old female born in the wild and raised in a giant redwood tree in a remote canyon on the Big Sur coast; "400," a 5-year-old female born in Boise, Idaho, at the World Center for Birds of Prey and then released at Pinnacles; and "451," a 5-year-old male also born in Boise, released at Pinnacles, then rescued from the 2008 Big Sur fire. An adventurous spirit, "451" has also been seen on forays south of Pinnacles.
"These are young birds, feeling their oats -- and looking for territory," said Burnett, who said they can fly up to 150 miles a day. "They're subadults, not yet breeding age, that are out exploring the terrain. This falls in line with behaviors that were historically observed -- young birds out exploring."
A condor on one of the LIck Observatory domes atoop Mt. Hamilton. (Peter E.Hart)
"They are wired to be inquisitive," he said. "They're scavengers, always looking for dead deer or cows."
Six years ago, there was a sighting in Livermore -- but it was merely a one-day round-trip "fly-by." In contrast, this flock seemed to settle in for awhile.
"For us, that is what is exciting. They may be seeking potential new territory," said Burnett. "The more they spread out, the stronger the population will be."
Contact Lisa M. Krieger at 408-920-5565.
Free-flying population worldwide: 192
Free-flying population in California: 94
Reintroduction: The Ventana Wildlife Society began condor releases in Big Sur in 1997. The National Park Service began releases in 2003 at Pinnacles National Monument. Currently, the group monitors a flock of more than 50 birds, with at least five breeding pairs.
Federal status: Critically endangered
Protection: In 2008, the use of lead ammunition for hunting was banned within the condor range in California to help protect the population from poisoning. Yet the rare birds still face threats due to ingestion of residual lead bullets.
For more information, go to www.ventanaws.org.
AT RISK Condors at the Grand Canyon in 2004. Researchers were alarmed by abnormally thin eggshells in the wild. (Photo: Chad Olson/National Park Service, via Associated Press)
November 15, 2010
New Hurdle for California Condors May Be DDT From Years Ago
By JOHN MOIR
BIG SUR, Calif. — Four years ago, in a musky, leaf-lined cavity halfway up a 200-foot redwood tree here, two California condors made the region’s first known nesting attempt in more than a century.
Joe Burnett, a senior wildlife biologist with the Ventana Wildlife Society and the lead biologist for the Central California condor recovery program, who had been monitoring the condor pair, was delighted with this promising development in the continuing effort to save the nation’s largest bird from extinction. When this first breeding attempt proved unsuccessful, Mr. Burnett attributed it to the young birds’ inexperience. But when he climbed the giant tree to examine the abandoned nest, he was stunned at what he uncovered: the first evidence of a potentially significant new hurdle for the condor program.
“The eggshell fragments we found appeared abnormally thin,” Mr. Burnett said. “They were so thin that we had to run tests to confirm that it was a condor egg.” The fragments reminded him of the thin-shelled eggs from birds like brown pelicans and peregrine falcons, which had been devastated by DDT but are now on the rebound.
The discovery raised a disturbing question: could DDT — the deadly pesticide that has been banned in the United States since 1972 — produce condor reproductive problems nearly four decades later?
To find out, the Ventana Wildlife Society, which manages the Central California condor releases, has collected as many subsequent wild-laid eggs as possible. The handful of Big Sur breeding pairs lay a single egg once every other year. Ventana biologists brave the region’s trackless terrain to exchange a wild-laid egg with one from the zoo-based captive-breeding program. The unsuspecting condor pair then hatches the substitute egg as if it is their own.
In addition, Ventana biologists began to look for possible sources of DDT. Condors are carrion eaters, and in recent years the Big Sur birds have turned to what was historically a major food source: marine mammals. Mr. Burnett now suspects that animals like California sea lions may present a hidden danger to condors. Even today, sea lion blubber contains high levels of DDE, a toxic metabolic breakdown product of DDT.
Ventana biologists have been comparing the thickness of the eggshells recovered from the Big Sur birds with those produced by the Southern California condor flock that lives many miles from the coast. The Southern California birds do not feed on marine mammals, and their eggs are normal. Mr. Burnett says that preliminary results from Ventana’s study suggest that the Big Sur eggs are “substantially thinner” than those from the inland birds, and that early indicators point to DDT as the principal cause of the thinning.
Although no known source of DDT exists near Big Sur, a large DDT hot spot in the marine sediments off the Southern California coast called the Palos Verdes Shelf has attracted Mr. Burnett’s attention because it is near a breeding ground for California sea lions that eat the area’s fish. The sea lions then migrate up the coast. Hundreds of these sea lions use a rocky beach near Big Sur as a stopping point on the trip north. In recent years, this sea lion “haul-out” has become a favorite feeding spot for the Big Sur condors.
The DDT that pollutes the Palos Verdes Shelf originated half a century ago with the Montrose Chemical Corporation. At the time, Montrose was the world’s largest producer of what was once hailed as a “miracle pesticide.” According to Carmen White, the Environmental Protection Agency’s remedial project manager for the site, in the 1950s and ’60s Montrose discharged its untreated DDT waste directly into the Los Angeles County Sanitation District’s sewer system. An estimated 1,700 tons of DDT settled onto the seabed, where it continues to contaminate Pacific Coast waters. The E.P.A. has declared the area a Superfund site, and Ms. White is coordinating a plan to cover the most contaminated parts with a cap of sand and silt in 2012.
According to David Witting, a fishery biologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, diet determines how DDT affects various species. By 1971, when local officials forced Montrose to stop its discharge, Dr. Witting said brown pelicans and other surface-feeding birds had been hit hard. The pelicans were feeding on small, DDT-contaminated fish that picked up the pesticide as it drifted to the surface near the sewer outfall.
Once Montrose stopped discharging DDT into the sewer, that contamination source disappeared. “Brown pelicans rebounded fairly quickly after the dumping stopped,” Dr. Witting said.
James Haas, the environmental contaminants program coordinator for the Pacific Southwest region of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, noted that other birds in the region that feed higher on the food chain, like bald eagles, continue to suffer from DDT-induced eggshell thinning.
Concerns about condors and DDT have prompted the Fish and Wildlife Service to initiate a new one-year project to study how marine mammals might be carrying Montrose DDT up the California coast. The main investigator, Myra Finkelstein at the University of California, Santa Cruz, is also leading a four-year study to investigate risk factors and management strategies to ensure the condor’s long-term sustainability. This includes not only DDT but also poisoning that comes from ingesting lead-bullet fragments found in hunter-shot game. Lead poisoning was a major factor in the bird’s brush with extinction and remains the primary danger today to released condors.
Because of the lead poisoning problem, in 2008 California enacted legislation requiring hunters in condor country to use ammunition without lead.
Despite lead poisoning and the emerging DDT challenge, Mr. Burnett remains optimistic. He is hopeful that taking steps like capping the DDT-contaminated Montrose marine sediments as well as continuing research will provide solutions. He notes that in 1982 the population of California condors had been reduced to 22 birds. Although problems remain, bringing back the condor has been a conservation success story. There are now 380 California condors in the world, with about half of these titans of the sky flying free in the Western United States.
“There is a light at the end of the tunnel,” Mr. Burnett said. “We just don’t know how far out that light is."
Original article: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/16/science/16condors.html?_r=4&hp
The Bullet That Keeps on Killing
Published: September 12, 2010
At the end of August, the Environmental Protection Agency turned down a petition to ban lead from the manufacture of hunting ammunition. According to the agency, it lacked the legal authority to regulate lead in that form.
But that conclusion is legally dubious and it was a sudden and premature about-face for the agency, which had planned a two-month public comment period on the subject. And the turnaround came after the National Rifle Association asked the E.P.A. to reject the petition. The N.R.A. said this was just a backhanded attempt to impose gun control.
The N.R.A. should consult the hunters among its members. They know that getting lead out of the environment is essential. Lead is as toxic in nature as it is in the form of lead paint in houses. Scientists have established a clear link between lead from ammunition and the poisoning of some 75 species of birds — especially waterfowl and scavengers like condors, eagles and ravens.
There are safe, effective substitutes for lead in ammunition, and some states have experimented with a swap — encouraging hunters to trade in lead ammunition for nontoxic shells.
We urge the E.P.A. to reconsider this hasty decision. The agency has the authority it needs to regulate the lead in ammunition as a toxic substance, even though it isn’t authorized to regulate the manufacture of ammunition itself. (It has said it will consider a ban on lead fishing sinkers, which would be welcome, but that is not going nearly far enough.) A bullet fired from a hunter’s gun should kill only once, not go on killing again and again.
Monterey county Fish and Game Commission meeting
August 11, 2010
Joe Burnett, VWS Senior Wildlife Biologist shares data collected on lead exposure patterns in condors.
Senior Wildlife Biologist, Joe Burnett, spoke at the Monterey county Fish and Game Commission meeting on August 11, 2010 to share data we’ve been collecting on lead exposure patterns in condors. Joe’s final point was a question, “Can hunters and condors co-exist?” His answer…YES…but only if we use nonlead ammunition in the range of the condor. Here are a few key photos from his presentation and below is an article written by Kevin Howe from the Monterey Herald about his talk.
Download a PowerPoint presentation of Joe Burnett's talk.
Monterey County Fish and Game Advisory Commission mulls ban on lead ammunition
Condors remain at risk from metal poisoning
By KEVIN HOWE
Herald Staff Writer
Posted: 08/11/2010 01:29:20 AM PDT
Updated: 08/11/2010 09:41:51 AM PDT
With the threat of a lawsuit seeking a nationwide ban on lead bullets and fishing tackle, the Monterey County Fish and Game Advisory Commission on Tuesday heard a wildlife biologist with long experience nurturing condors make his case for getting the lead out of hunting.
Hunting is good for the condor, and if he could find a source other than bullet fragments in carcasses for lead poisoning of the giant scavengers, he would be happy, said Joe Burnett, senior wildlife biologist for the Ventana Wildlife Society. But studies consistently show bullets and shot pellets as the source of poisoning, he said.
The society has been reintroducing condors to the Big Sur area since 1997, and Burnett said he believes that if the major causes of condor deaths — lead poisoning and electrocution on power lines — could be eliminated, the birds could be re-established as a self-sustaining wildlife population.
But his audience was skeptical in the face of Burnett's statement that the condor flock of 90-plus birds in Monterey and San Benito counties is captured twice a year for examination, vaccinations and other treatment.
"Are condors really a wild animal?" said Bill Neidinger of Marina, given the repeated trapping and treating.
The jury is also still out, as far as hunters are concerned, on the lead-free ammunition required in the range. Several said copper bullets offered to hunters don't effectively kill game, cost upward of three times what lead bullet ammunition does, and aren't available in as wide a variety of weights and calibers.
All but a few manufacturers limit their offerings to a few of the most popular rifle calibers, which would make serviceable heirloom hunting rifles useless.
Others questioned whether the ban would be lifted if non-lead ammunition is ineffective, and one rancher commented that because he can't shoot pests — ground squirrels and coyotes — with currently available .22 caliber bullets, ranchers will have to go back to poisoning them, causing more environmental problems than lead.
Gunshop owner Robert Ashmore of Monterey noted that state law calls for reimbursing hunters for the difference in ammunition costs between lead and non-lead bullets "when funds are available," an occurrence that he and others said is unlikely given the state's financial situation.
Last week, a number of environmental groups petitioned the federal Environmental Protection Agency for a ban on lead in ammunition and fishing tackle, arguing that millions of animals are dying from eating lead-shot pellets or carcasses contaminated by lead.
Kevin Howe can be reached at 646-4416 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Condors: The next generation
Biologists suspect residual DDT for thinning egg shells in the Big Sur scavengers
By LILY DAYTON
Posted: 07/13/2010 01:33:24 AM PDT
Updated: 07/13/2010 09:31:44 AM PDT
When biologists first spied captive-bred California condors eating a dead sea lion that had washed up on the Big Sur coast, they were thrilled.
"They were foraging on their own, which was a big step in the right direction for recovery of this species," said Joe Burnett, senior wildlife biologist with Ventana Wildlife Society.
Burnett has spent many a night hiking into the backcountry of Big Sur, carrying carcasses to leave for these endangered scavengers in an attempt to mimic natural conditions. Following this initial feast in 1999, Big Sur condors began feeding on beached marine mammals more and more each year. By 2006, their most common food source was California sea lions.
"In the mid to late 1800s, condors were documented in Monterey Bay foraging on marine mammals," said Burnett. "So we suspected and hoped they'd develop the same pattern."
But what they didn't count on was that, along with nutrients and energy, condors would ingest harmful levels of marine contaminants. Now, preliminary reports suggest that these contaminants — including residues from the banned insecticide DDT — are affecting the already tenuous reproductive success of the flock.
"We had our first known nesting in 2006 in the burned out cavity of a redwood tree 60 feet above the ground," said Burnett. Though researchers initially observed characteristic nesting behavior, there was no sign that a baby had hatched. "We suspected the birds had laid an egg and something had happened ... (so) a biologist from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service climbed up in the tree. He sifted through the substrate in the bottom of the nest and found egg shell fragments. This put it on our radar."
It's been well documented in scientific literature that DDE, the metabolic breakdown of DDT, which was banned by the FDA in December 1972, causes egg shell thinning in many birds species, including bald eagles, ospreys, peregrine falcons and brown pelicans. So when Burnett saw the shell fragments, his suspicions were immediately aroused.
"When you see egg shell thinning, all scientific data points to DDE. So that threw up a red flag," said Burnett.
The following year, biologists began to collect all the wild-laid eggs they could find and swap them out with captive-bred eggs from the Los Angeles Zoo. While unsuspecting wild condors raised chicks hatched from captive-bred eggs, the wild-laid eggs were closely monitored to ensure survival. Working in conjunction with USFWS, Ventana began to collect data on these wild-laid eggs, comparing egg shells and tissues from this coastal population of condors to those of condors from the Southern California flock. Unlike the Big Sur birds, members of the Southern California flock are released more than 40 miles inland near the foothills of the southern Sierra Nevada mountains, where they don't encounter marine mammals as a food source.
Although the study is ongoing, Burnett said that preliminary results suggest that eggshells from the Big Sur flock were substantially thinner than those found down south. Early indicators suggest DDE as the principle cause.
The condors being studied are feeding at a California sea lion haul-out in Big Sur, at the base of a 100-foot cliff with steep terrain that generates wind uplift — the perfect marriage of conditions for condors. The only problem is that the sea lions that rest there, and occasionally die and wash ashore, breed in Southern California at a Channel Island rookery amid some of the most DDT-contaminated waters in the world.
In the 1950s and 1960s, these breeding grounds were a dump site where the Montrose Chemical Corporation, the world's largest manufacturer of DDT at the time, dumped hundreds of tons of DDT-contaminated waste into the ocean. One of the reasons this chemical was so popular as a pesticide is also one of the reasons it is so dangerous to wildlife — it persists in the environment for an extremely long time. When the U.S. Geological Survey monitored marine sediments in this area in the 1990s, they found that more than 100 metric tons of DDT still remained.
Another characteristic of DDT that makes it dangerous to wildlife is that it is stored in animals' fat cells after it is ingested. This causes the chemical and its metabolites to accumulate in species throughout the food web. When animals low on the food chain are eaten by animals higher on the food chain, the contaminant becomes more concentrated in the predators' fat cells.
So, in the case of California sea lions, invertebrates living in DDT-contaminated sediments ingest the chemical and are then eaten by small fish. Small fish are in turn eaten by bigger fish, and so on, until sea lions, at the apex of the food chain, consume enormous amounts of fish and, consequently, enormous amounts of the contaminant.
When the sea lions leave their breeding grounds, they travel up the coast of California, where many stop off at the haul-out in Big Sur. One of the few animals feeding higher on the food chain than sea lions is the California condor.
Even if DDT levels aren't high enough to kill condors outright, Burnett pointed out that depressing their reproductive success is essentially a death sentence — especially in an animal that takes seven years to reach sexual maturity and only produces one egg every two years.
"There is no baseline for the level of marine contaminants that condors can sustain," said Burnett. "All we have are data for peregrine (falcons) and bald eagles."
DDT intake by falcons and eagles is minimal in comparison. Ventana is looking at egg tissues, and preliminary data suggests that DDE levels are higher than in bald eagles that were affected by DDT.
"The levels thus far are alarmingly high," Burnett said.
Ventana has used the successful bald eagle restoration project on Santa Catalina Island as a template for the condor study. In the 1980s, the Institute for Wildlife Studies in collaboration with USFWS started to release eagles onto Santa Catalina Island, near the Montrose dump site. The first eggs laid in 1987 broke before they hatched, alerting biologists to the possibility of DDT contamination. Thus, IWS initiated an ecotoxicology study, linking thin egg shells in eagles to prey sources contaminated from DDT residues.
Though the condor team is still in the throes of discovery, Burnett said, "We are in process of making the link to the same point-source that's been hindering the population of bald eagles." The good news about this point-source is that levels of DDT appear to have declined, albeit slowly, through the decades.
"We have definitely seen levels (of DDE in egg tissues) decrease from the 1990s to the mid-2000s," said David Garcelon, founder of the Institute of Wildlife Studies and principle investigator of the eagle project. "The trend has definitely gone way down. It's now low enough for (eagles) to hatch eggs."
The situation for eagles is different from condors since eagles primarily prey on fish, which are lower on the food chain and have less contamination. Still, the bald eagle situation illustrates that mitigating the issue of DDT contamination is primarily a waiting game — a daunting prospect for a nonprofit group trying to keep the flock intact.
"There aren't any new sources of DDT in North America, so we're trying to wait out the persistence of DDT put out there before," said Garcelon. "It's difficult to say how long it will last. There's still a lot in river bottoms and in the bottom of the ocean. With no oxygen, things break down really slowly.
"But based on what we've seen with bald eagles, and how it's turned around in a short period of time, I certainly wouldn't give up on condors based on a fear of marine contaminants. I'm not sure how long it will take for condors to start hatching successfully on their own, but I certainly wouldn't give up."
Natural history of the California condor
· With a wing span approaching 10 feet, California condors are one of the largest flying birds in the world.
· In the early 1900s, condors ranged along the entire Pacific Coast, from British Columbia to Baja California. Fossil evidence shows their prehistoric range was throughout the southern United States, down into mainland Mexico and even up into New York.
· These obligate scavengers provide a necessary ecosystem service by eating dead animals and recycling their energy back into the ecosystem.
· Condors can travel distances of up to 150 miles searching for carrion.
· They use visual cues to locate food and, once found, will circle the sky above as a signal to other condors that a food source has been located.
· Their scientific genus name, Gymnogyps, is Greek for "naked vulture," referring to this species' naked head, neck and feet. This is an adaptation that allows the bird to stay relatively clean while feeding from the body cavity of a dead animal.
· Condors have ridges on their tongues that correlate with grooves on the top of their mouths — they perfectly fit together to form a straw-like structure, an adaptation for feeding.
· These animals reach sexual maturity only after 6-8 years, and they can live up to 50 or 60 years.
· Condor pairs mate for life.
· Females usually lay only a single egg every other year (but they will often lay a second or third if the first one is removed or falls from the nest).
· Both males and females share in incubating eggs, as well as care and feeding of young.
· Condors were listed as endangered under the Federal Endangered Species Act in 1967.
· As recently as the 1980s, there were only 22 California condors left in the world. In 1987, the last wild condor was captured and taken into captivity. Since then, captive breeding programs have been successful in hatching baby chicks and releasing them to reestablish wild populations.
· The total California condor population, including wild and captive birds in California, Arizona and Baja California, is now more than 300.
·Despite the recent statewide ban, the main threat to adult California condors today is poisoning by ingestion of carrion tainted from lead ammunition.
Check this page for the latest articles 'In the News' regarding Ventana Wildlife Society and their mission or visit the Press Releases section.
Forged by Fire: Lightening and Landscape at Big Sur
We know that wildfire is a key part of the ecology of the Bay Area and has played a major role in shaping our landscapes. Yet it's simply not possible to let fires burn naturally in an urban region such as ours. But just to the south, the 240,000-acre Ventana Wilderness near Big Sur is large and remote enough to allow for the return of a natural fire regime. That's what has happened over the past 30 years as a series of lightning-ignited wildfires has helped shape both a living laboratory of fire ecology and an increasingly diverse landscape. Read about it on BayNature.org.
MyCondor.org gets cozy with the endangered scavengers.
POSTED JULY 16, 2009 12:00 AM
By Kera Abraham
Sunrays lit up the lupine-and-poppy-splashed hillside, a wild woolen scarf of orange and purple on a March afternoon. Big Sur’s Separation Ridge slid into a slate-blue sea, which dissolved into a sky as clear blue as the eyes of the baby girl toddling giddy in the flowers.
A condor looped overhead, lingering as if posing for a picture, transmitters and the numbers 06 attached to its wings. I wondered about its story.
Now it’s online: The Pinnacles National Monument website identifies it as Condor 306. She hatched at a San Diego zoo six years ago, was released 17 months later, has a younger brother and can be a bit of a loner, though she made a best friend in the flight pen.
Along with the 21 condors profiled on the Pinnacles site, Ventana Wildlife Society’s MyCondor.org tells the stories of the 27 birds in the Big Sur flock, each with its own nickname. The website, launched this month, aims to introduce the public to characters in a bigger story: the ongoing, multi-agency campaign to bring the species back from the brink of extinction.
“[VWS] has been directly working with these condors for 12 years and we know the personalities for each of them,” VWS Executive Director Kelly Sorenson says. “They live so long, sometimes over 50 years, so you could follow one of these birds for decades.”
The brand-new site is part of a series of Internet features VWS has recently undertaken, including a new blog, YouTube videos, a Flickr photostream, e-mail alerts, a VWS Facebook group, and a Facebook page for the fictional Theodore Condor, who already has nearly 400 friends.
His favorite activities: “flying, eating dead animals, nesting in cavities, hanging out with friends, preening my feathers and bathing.”
Printed from the Monterey County Weekly website: http://www.montereycountyweekly.com/archives/2009/2009-Jul-16/mycondororg-gets-cozy-with-the-endangered-scavengers
2009 © Monterey County Weekly
(05-12) 16:56 PDT Los Angeles, CA (AP) --
A California condor that was among the first six members of the endangered species released to the wild in 2003 at Pinnacles National Monument has died at the Los Angeles Zoo of complications from lead poisoning.
Pinnacles wildlife biologist Jim Peterson said No. 286 died Monday after zoo officials worked for more than a month to remove lead from his bloodstream. He had lost more than half of his 24-pound body weight.
The condor was poisoned by ingesting lead ammunition used by game hunters.
Biologists found the bird also had multiple birdshot wounds, although that did not contribute to the poisoning.
The species was near extinction in the 1980s when all remaining members — just over two dozen — were placed in captive breeding programs that have increased the population and allowed birds to be released into the wild.
Condors feed on the carcasses of dead animals, including those shot by hunters. Biologists say the biggest threat to condors in the wild is lead ammunition, which has been banned in 15 condor counties since July 1.
Pinnacles National Monument is in central California, southeast of the Monterey Bay region.
KGO-TV San Francisco ABC
February 11, 2009
Bald eagle recovering at wildlife center
Watch the video here
Ventana Wildlife Society press release regarding Bald Eagle 5M. Updated March 3, 2009.
Majesty in recovery: Injured eagle is recuperating at local wildlife facility
Friday, Feb 6, 2009
Posted on Wed, Feb. 04, 2009
Fifteen years ago, a female eaglet was released into the Big Sur wilderness. On Sunday, the same eagle, now a spectacular breeding adult, was found entangled in a fence on Fort Hunter Liggett in Monterey County.
The eagle, known as 5M, is now recuperating in a flight cage on Prefumo Canyon Road in San Luis Obispo. The bird has abrasions at the base of each of her wings from struggling with the fence.
The eagle’s left wing droops from the injuries, but otherwise appears in good shape, said Kathy Duncan of Pacific Wildlife Care, the Morro Bay group rehabilitating the bird. Those caring for the bird hope she will be ready for release in 10 days to a week.
The eagle will recover in a series of large cages, called a mews, operated by Pacific Wildlife Care volunteer Jeri Roberts. She will be fed a diet of rats and fish and will be treated with antibiotics to hasten her recovery.
They are anxious to release her as quickly as possible because she has a mate and a nest waiting for her in the wild. “I’m bummed out to see the left wing,” Duncan said. “I’m hoping this is going to be a fast recovery.”
5M is unusual in several respects, Duncan said. First, the group rarely gets bald eagles. Second, because she was introduced to Bigur by the Ventana Wildlife Society, a detailed history of her is available.
Her legs have several identification bands. She even had a radio transmitter strapped to her back.
The transmitter allowed her movements to be tracked for her first two years in the wild. It was designed to fall off after the batteries ran out but never did, something that evidently did not affect her survival, said Kelly Sorenson, executive director of the Ventana Wildlife Society.
5M was collected from a nest in the Tongass National Forest, near Juneau, Alaska, on July 22, 1993. Her first flight in the wilds of Big Sur was on Aug. 1 of that same year, part of the first batch of four eagles to be released there after the species was extirpated from the wild earlier in the century.
Using the transmitter, biologists were able to track her as she moved about Big Sur and wintered at Lake San Antonio and Nacimiento Lake. The transmitter gave out late in 1995.
5M was one of 70 bald eagles released in Big Sur. Since the program began in 1993, 143 chicks have been produced. Last year, 12 pairs nested in the wild and raised 23 chicks.
“The story of eagle 5M is extraordinary and one that shows just how successfully a grassroots reintroduction effort in combination with a wildlife rehabilitation program can work well together,” Sorenson said. “Bald eagles are once again breeding in the Central California region, after a 60-year absence.”
© 2009 San Luis Obispo Tribune and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.
NPR, All Things Considered, November 11, 2008
Big Sur's California Condors Get New Lease on Life
Condors get more protection
Last year's ban on lead ammunition expanded
By DANIEL LOPEZ
Monterey Herald Staff Writer
Updated: 12/05/2008 01:38:08 AM PST
photo by Orville Myers, Monterey Herald
Environmentalists have sought a ban on all lead ammunition in condor...
(ORVILLE MYERS/The Herald)
California hunters face a new restriction aimed at protecting the endangered condor.
Hunters issued depredation permits — which allow for the shooting of animals deemed a nuisance or threat — will have to use nonlead ammunition when in condor country under a settlement reached Wednesday between environmental groups and the state Department of Fish and Game.
The move is an extension of a lead ammunition ban adopted last year by the state Fish and Game Commission for hunting in the condor's range.
Environmentalists have sought a ban on all lead ammunition because condors feed on carcases shot by hunters and left in the field. They say the birds ingest lead fragments and pellets, and studies have shown lead causes reproductive problems and death among the birds.
"No one wants the hunters to stop hunting. The condors depend on hunters," said Adam Keats, attorney for The Center for Biological Diversity, one of the environmental groups that sued the state Department of Fish and Game in federal court to expand the ban.
Depredation hunting was not covered under the original ban.
"The condors are scavengers. They rely on hunters, but it's sort of a double-edged sword," Keats said.
The intent of a lead ammunition ban in the condor range is to allow the birds and hunters to safely coexist, he said.
As part of the settlement, the Fish and Game Commission has also agreed to consider a similar lead ammunition ban for hunting small mammals that are also part of the condor diet, such as jackrabbits and opossums.
The condor, a fully protected species under state law, is also granted protections under the state's Ridley-Tree Condor Preservation Act.
During the 1980s and '90s, the California condor — North America's largest land bird with wing spans reaching 10 feet and weighing up to 25 pounds — nearly went extinct.
The birds have been making a comeback in the wild through reintroduction efforts such as that of the Ventana Wildlife Society, the only nonprofit organization releasing condors in California.
Daniel Lopez can be reached at email@example.com or 646-4494.
For information about hunting restrictions in the condor range and the lead ammunition ban, see www.dfg.ca.gov/wildlife/hunting/condor.
Condors in a Coal Mine
California's lead bullet ban protects condors and other wildlife, but its biggest beneficiaries may be humans
By John Moir
Smithsonian.com, September 09, 2008
It was early winter, the end of deer-hunting season in Central California, and condor biologist Joe Burnett of the Ventana Wildlife Society was steeling himself for a task he had come to dread. Burnett and a team of four Condor Recovery Program members were at a remote site in the mountains east of Big Sur, where they were trapping condors and testing them for lead poisoning.
Read the complete article in Smithsonian.com
Treatment fails to save condor No. 336
By KEVIN HOWE
Herald Staff Writer
Article Last Updated: 09/09/2008 01:34:51 AM PDT
A 4-year-old female condor captured Friday in Big Sur and rushed to the Los Angeles Zoo for treatment of lead poisoning died Sunday morning, according to senior wildlife biologist Joe Burnett of the Ventana Wildlife Society.
The deceased bird, identified as Condor No. 336, was shaking and weak when found by Ventana Wildlife biologist Sayre Flannagan, who caught it in a net on the ground in Big Sur.
Kelly Sorenson, executive director of the Ventana Wildlife Society, the only nonprofit group in California that breeds condors for introduction to the wild, said the condor was released three years ago at Pinnacles National Monument and was living and scavenging in Big Sur.
It was initially taken to the Avian and Exotic Animal Clinic in Monterey, given a blood test that showed "really high, life-threatening levels" of lead, then given emergency treatment, Burnett said, then taken to the Los Angeles Zoo for more comprehensive veterinary treatment.
The bird appeared to rally at first, he said, but weakened and succumbed Sunday.
A normal adult condor weighs 18 to 25 pounds, Burnett said. This one was down to 10.9 pounds when captured.
"It's hard to bounce back from a weight loss like that," Burnett said.
Wildlife biologists report that condors are particularly susceptible to lead poisoning and the use of lead in ammunition used for hunting has been banned since July 1 in California where condors range, to prevent them from ingesting lead fragments from game carcasses left by hunters.
"Condor 336 was perhaps our most well-known condor," said National Park Service superintendent Eric Brunneman at the Pinnacles, noting that it was featured for the past year in a YouTube clip that showed her devouring a deer heart.
From a population low of 22 birds in the mid 1980s, California condors are making a slow, but steady recovery through intensive captive breeding efforts and public education programs. As of August 2008,176 California condors live in captivity, Brunneman said, and 156 are in the wild, with 82 of those found in California.
Ventana Wildlife and the National Parks Service began releasing condors in Big Sur in 1997 and in the Pinnacles in 2003. The two groups monitor a population of 41 wild condors in Central California.
Kevin Howe can be reached at 646-4416 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bird suffers from lead poisoning
By KEVIN HOWE
Herald Staff Writer
Article Last Updated: 09/06/2008 01:29:44 AM PDT
A 4-year-old female condor was captured Friday by wildlife biologists who stalked the sick bird for three days.
The animal was caught in a net on the ground in the Big Sur area, said Kelly Sorenson, executive director of the Ventana Wildlife Society, the only nonprofit group in California that breeds condors for introduction to the wild.
The condor was released three years ago at Pinnacles National Monument and was living and scavenging in Big Sur, said Ventana senior wildlife biologist Joe Burnett. A Big Sur resident reported the bird acting strangely.
"She was doing well," he said, "until this."
He said he knows what the problem is.
"Lead has reared its ugly head again," he said.
A study by University of California-Santa Cruz biologists links condor deaths to blood poisoning, and cites lead from bullets and shotgun pellets left in carcasses eaten by the condors as the main source. Condors, Burnett said, are particularly susceptible to lead poisoning.
The sick bird, identified as Condor No. 336, was shaking and weak when found by Ventana Wildlife biologist Sayre Flannagan.
The bird was taken to the Avian and Exotic Animal Clinic in Monterey, given a blood test that showed "really high, life-threatening levels" of lead, then given emergency treatment, Burnett said.
It was taken to the Los Angeles Zoo for more comprehensive veterinary treatment.
A normal adult condor weighs 18 to 25 pounds, Burnett said. This one was down to 10.9 pounds when captured.
"It's hard to bounce back from a weight loss like that," Burnett said.
The source of the lead has not been determined, Sorenson said.
The use of lead bullets or pellets for hunting in the condor range has been illegal since July 1, he said, and hunters are asked to comply with the new law by using non-lead ammunition when pursuing game.
In 1987, the last free-flying California condor was captured as part of an effort to save the species from extinction.
Ventana Wildlife and the National Parks Service began releasing condors in Big Sur in 1997 and in the Pinnacles in 2003. The two groups monitor a population of 41 wild condors in Central California.
Kevin Howe can be reached at 646-4416 or email@example.com.
Calif. condors pass biggest survival test
Scientists amazed at pampered species' instincts in wildfire; 2 birds lost
BIG SUR, Calif. — As wildfire whipped toward a remote sanctuary of the endangered California condor last month, the rare birds got their biggest test in survival after years of pampering by biologists: They had to live completely on their own.
Forced away by flames, their scientist handlers could only hope the birds' animal instincts would kick in. To their delight, they did.
The birds found fresh air, and food: a beached whale and decaying California sea lion at the edge of Big Sur's cliffs. After the blaze swept through the area, many even returned home.
"It's incredible. They did just what they're supposed to do," said Kelly Sorenson, executive director of the Ventana Wildlife Society, which runs the sanctuary. "I was honestly thinking we'd lose four to six birds. You can rebuild pens, but we only have a limited amount of time to restore a species."
|Joe Burnett, senior wildlife biologist at the Ventana Wildlife Society, on July 8 gets a first look at the condor release pen destroyed by the Big Sur fire — while a condor that survived keeps an eye on him.
The Ventana Wildlife Society near Big Sur is the only nonprofit in California to prepare captive-bred condors for life in the wild, making it an integral part of conservation efforts to save the condor from extinction.
Flames from the 188-square-mile fire in the Los Padres National Forest last month destroyed the society's aviary and release pen and thousands of dollars worth of equipment. The fire also displaced the 43 free-flying birds the society monitors and forced a hasty rescue of seven 1-year-old chicks and their adult mentor by the U.S. Coast Guard.
For 17 days, biologists were cut off from the sanctuary, monitoring the wild birds by electronic transmitters.
"We felt so helpless," Sorenson said.
The vulture was declared an endangered species in 1967, when its population — estimated to be 50 to 60 birds at the time — was in sharp decline because of poaching, habitat destruction and lead poisoning.
In the 1980s, the U.S. government approved an ambitious and costly conservation plan that brought the last of the nearly two dozen surviving California condors into captivity for a captive-breeding program.
After teaching the newborns with puppets and other tools how to survive in the wild, reintroduction into forests started in the 1990s. While there have been some setbacks (powerlines have proven a difficult obstacle to navigate), there are now 332 condors, half of which are living supervised in the wild in Arizona, California and Baja California, Mexico.
'I had an eerie feeling'
The wildfires near the sanctuary started the night of June 21 with a burst of lightning storms that ignited fires all over Northern California. The blaze near Big Sur was particularly complicated to attack because of the steep terrain.
Sorenson was at the remote sanctuary that night, entertaining donors, when he saw a black cloud blow in over the coast.
"I had an eerie feeling," Sorenson said. "We know it's dangerous. I told my donors we needed to get out of there."
Ventana Wildlife Society
|This condor chick, which was nesting during the Big Sur fire, was found safe and photographed last Tuesday.
By the time Sorenson and his group reached the highway, he could see four plumes of smoke rising from the mountains behind him.
The next day, the Ventana Wildlife staff sought to rescue the seven 1-year-old juveniles and one adult mentor from the sanctuary. They were not ready to be released into the wild to fend for themselves. The birds had to be taken to a sanctuary the group operates with federal biologists from Pinnacles National Monument.
With roads impassable, the U.S. Coast Guard airlifted the birds out in two trips through thick smoke and approaching flames.
"The clock was ticking," said senior biologist Joe Burnett.
Two birds gone
All told, biologists have tentatively accounted for all but two birds: a chick that had been in a nest high in a redwood tree and another older condor that was released into the wild two years ago.
Last week, Sorenson and Burnett returned to the burned-out sanctuary and hiked to the edge of the feeding site. At the top of a charred Ponderosa pine the alpha male of the group surveyed his blackened canyon.
Burnett pumped his fist.
"They survived on their own without us," Sorenson said. "It shows us they can do it."
Sunday, February 3, 2008 (SF Chronicle)
BUTTERFLIES DRAWN TO PACIFIC GROVE
Stephanie Wright Hession
(02-03) 04:00 PDT Pacific Grove -- - Ambling down a narrow pathway, past
the pink exterior of the Butterfly Grove Inn, butterfly enthusiasts arrive
at the Monarch Grove Sanctuary in Pacific Grove. They're eager to glimpse
the thousands of black-and-orange creatures that winter at the sanctuary
from October through March. Read more>>
NEW EGG FOR CONDORS
By KEVIN HOWE
Herald Staff Writer
Article Last Updated: 02/27/2008 08:35:27 AM PST
The nesting pair of condors that hatched the first condor chick in the wild in California in a century has laid another egg.
Joe Burnett, senior wildlife biologist for the Ventana Wildlife Society's Condor Recovery Program, reported that the nesting pair was showing "telltale signs that (the mother) was tending to an egg in her cliffside nest cave" on Valentine's Day.
Burnett said this was the second try for the pair, who produced a condor the society named Centennia. Centennia hatched early last year, but was attacked by a golden eagle while flying free in Big Sur on Dec. 4.
The attack was seen by Deborah Visco, an intern for the Condor Recovery Program, who reported that the chick appeared to be successfully defending itself.
Burnett said biologists presume Centennia was killed by the eagle.
"It is not uncommon for condors to fail on their first try," he said, "and we are optimistic that their second time around will produce even better results.
"Golden eagles have always been a natural threat to condors," Burnett said. "They must carefully relearn how to coexist with natural predators in the wild."
Another condor hatched in Big Sur last year after being nurtured by artificial means and named Ventana, "is thriving in the wild," he said.
Ventana Wildlife Society began releasing condors in Central California in 1997 and monitors a flock of 44 wild condors in collaboration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the National Parks services. In 1982, there were only 22 wild condors in existence. Now there are more 300 in the wild or being raised in captivity.
For information, see www.ventanaws.org. Kevin Howe can be reached at 646-4416 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lead bullet ban adopted
Legislation intends to protect condors
By KEVIN HOWE
Herald Staff Writer
Article Last Updated: 12/08/2007 01:31:20 AM PST
A ban on lead bullets for hunting in the California condor range was adopted Friday by the state Fish and Game Commission.
The ban goes beyond legislation adopted last summer and signed into law by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The new regulations prohibit possessing lead ammunition and a gun that can shoot it while hunting in the condor range.
Condor leaves the nest
The bird, named Ventana, is the second to take flight this year
By KEVIN HOWE
Monterey Herald Staff Writer
Article Last Updated: 10/29/2007 01:27:36 AM PDT
A second condor raised in the wild in Monterey County has taken flight from her nest.
The "redwood condor" — so named because she was raised in nest built in a redwood tree — had been named Ventana and took flight Oct. 22, said senior wildlife biologist Joe Burnett of the Ventana Wilderness Society.
Ventana biologist Mike Tyner saw the condor perched in a small tree below the nest "and reported that she was looking very healthy," Burnett said. "Her parents have been able to get food to her and she is well fed."
The big bird has stayed close to her nest tree and Saturday had moved to a better perch in a larger tree, Burnett said.
Condor chick makes first flight
Centennia eases concerns of biologists
By KEVIN HOWE
Monterey Herald Staff Writer
Article Last Updated: 09/28/2007
Centennia has set another record.
The first California condor chick successfully hatched in the wild in Monterey County in more than 100 years, Centennia took her first flight from her cave nest in Big Sur on Wednesday, said Joe Burnett, senior wildlife biologist with the Ventana Wildlife Society.
It was another landmark this year in the Wildlife Society's condor recovery program, he said, accomplished by the same bird.
"She's out on the wing. She is now an official wild-fledged bird. It's a pretty historic day."
San Jose Mercury News
Condor dispute takes off
STATE OFFICIAL FIRED; SOUGHT LEAD SHOT BAN
By Paul Rogers
Article Launched: 09/15/2007 01:30:54 AM PDT
A push to reduce the poisoning of California condors by banning the lead bullets that lodge in their prey faced a cloudy future Friday, a day after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger fired a state Fish and Game commissioner targeted by Republican lawmakers.
The ouster sent a chill through the environmentalists and biologists who say forbidding the bullets where the condors fly - a move decried by hunters - is key to the endangered species' continued recovery. It also threatens to dim Schwarzenegger's image as an environmental leader.
"There's literally no hope for recovering the condor unless we remove lead from their food supply," said wildlife biologist Kelly Sorenson of Big Sur.
L. A. Times 9-14-07
Fish and Game official, criticized for stance on bullets, resigns
Hanna had advocated banning lead ammo in condor territory. GOP lawmakers demanded that the Schwarzenegger administration remove him from his post
Sacramento Bee 9-14-07
Another shot in ammo battle
State Fish and Game Commission member quits, citing pressure over condor protection
Legislation to Save North America’s Largest Bird the Condor ...http://www.californiachronicle.com/articles/viewArticle.asp?articleID=36833
California Chronicle, CA - Sep 4, 2007
AB 821, the Ridley-Tree Condor Preservation Act will remove the number one threat to the survival of the endangered California condor, lead ammunition, ...
Rare Condor Dies While Undergoing Lead Poisoning Treatment At The ...http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/08/070819153340.htm
Science Daily (press release) - Aug 19, 2007
To reach blood lead levels of this magnitude the condor must ingest lead fragments directly as background blood lead levels from environmental contact such ... ***
Ventana Wildlife Society Contacts:
Kelly Sorenson, Executive Director
Joe Burnett, Senior Wildlife Biologist
Ventana Wildlife Society
19045 Portola Drive Suite F-1
Salinas, CA 93908