The Yurok Tribe has received funding to study the feasibility of restoring the California condor within the tribe’s ancestral territory on the Northcoast. The project is getting a wealth of media attention; the best story we’ve seen is by Heidi Walters for the Northcoast Journal. Information on the project can also be found on the Tribe’s website.
The main thrust of the story is that the Tribe is studying the prey base for the giant charismatic bird prior to a reintroduction decision because of concerns that prey may contain lead, DDT by-products or other toxins. Because these toxins accumulate in and can eventually kill Condors, too many toxins in the prey would render reintroduction infeasible. The funding is from the US Fish & Wildlife Service which will make the final decision on whether or not to introduce the bird into Northwest California.
What KlamBlog finds most impressive about this project is the process by which reintroduction of the condor was chosen as a tribal objective.
Long before the Yurok Tribe was allowed to develop its own tribal government, Yurok traditionalists were maintaining and restoring ceremonies, taking action to protect the Sacred Siskiyou High Country and dreaming about restoring ancestral Yurok Territory. Yuroks like Chris Peters, Walt Lara Senior and others along with Karuk and Tollowa traditionalists led these battles which – in the case of the G-O Road and the sacred high country – went all the way to the Supreme Court.
When the tribal government was organized this tradition of restoration was memorialized in the Tribe’s constitution and incorporated into the tribal structure. Tribal elders and traditionalists are empowered through membership on a Culture Committee and a Natural Resources Committee which make recommendations to the Tribal Council. The Tribal Council includes members who are traditionalists and it has adopted most recommendations emanating from these committees. This demonstrates strong tribal government support for cultural and ecosystem restoration. It is from one of these committees that the proposal to restore the condor emanated.
But how far will the Yurok Tribe’s commitment to restore the ancestral territory extend. For some traditionalists full restoration of traditional culture involves restoring the entire ecosystem – including all “participants” – the full suite of plants and animals that once inhabited Northwest California. That would, of course, include the Gray Wolf and the Grizzly Bear. Traditional Yurok houses were built with small round doors. Elders say this was done so that Grizzly Bears could not get in.
The wolf is already on the way. Introduced more than a decade ago into Idaho, Gray Wolves have crossed into Oregon and are on their way to Northern California. Conservation biologists have determined that sufficient habitat and prey exist in far Northern California to support wolves.
The Grizzly Bear is not on the way and would require active restoration. We know of no proposals to restore the charismatic bear in California. Will the Yurok Tribe someday propose Grizzly restoration here? Our guess is that will not happen for a long time…if ever.