Newspaper opinion pieces

A recent editorial in the New York Times highlighted the California condor. That editorial was accompanied by a fine illustration of a condor.

Over time, the California condor has appeared in many newspaper opinion pieces. In this post I offer a sampling, one from each decade starting with the 1940s and concluding with the recent New York Times piece.

Tom Cameron’s “The Price We’ve Paid for a Great Century”, published in the Los Angeles Times on 29 September 1948, was a look back at California’s 1st 100 years as a state. Cameron writes that:

California condors [were] so numerous they provoked little comment. Now, there are fewer than 100 of these majestic birds, mostly in the Ventura County mountains – if they escaped the recent Ojai forest fire.

After noting other examples of the declines in California’s animal life, the author concludes:

We have lost much, but we still possess much in the way of natural resources. And if we discourage the tin-can tourist and educate the careless smoker in the mountains we should make a better record in the second century of Statehood.

While I agree with Cameron’s description of the problem, the prescription he offered was hardly sufficient for the task.

The Washington Post Times Herald of 18 March 1956 included a piece by Irston R. Barnes, then president of the Audubon Society of the District of Columbia. Barnes’s call for protecting wildlife, titled “A Chance to Turn over More than Received”, includes this:

We bemoan the greed and ignorance of earlier generations that erased the great auk, the Labrador duck, the passenger pigeon, and the Eskimo curlew from the American scene. We are concerned for the future of certain endangered species – the California condor, the whooping crane, and the ivory-billed woodpecker, and in a few instances, we are taking some effective action to try to give these dramatic species a chance to survive.

“San Rafael Wilderness” was the title of an editorial in the Washington Post Times Herald on 10 February 1968. The editors wrote in support of legislation to expand a wilderness area:

The additional acres were included because of their unusual scenery and their Chumash Indian pictographs and because they provide a flyway for the rare California condor.

A brief editorial in the Los Angeles Times for 3 November 1976 was titled “Death of a Condor”. This text deserves consideration; here it is in its entirety:

The efforts of four veterinarians have failed. A California condor, shot, maimed and left to die by a hunter in the Tehachapi Mountains, is dead.

A recovery team had rushed the bird to the Los Angeles Zoo. The doctors came from as far away as Maryland. An urbanized society thus demonstrated its eagerness to protect a species endangered by that very urbanization.

In the blind act of shooting the protected bird there had been a savagery that mocked the conventional view of man as civilizer of the wilderness.

The doctors did their best. A damaged wing was amputated. The bird’s emaciated body was nourished. The effort was worth making. Yet who would doubt the preference of the condor for death over life without flight?

On 8 February 1986, the New York Times published W. B. Tyson’s “The Last Days of the Condor?” This opinion piece was accompanied by an uncredited portrait of a California condor. Tyson began:

One way or the other, 1986 probably will be the year in which all California condors disappear from the wild….

There are two choices. The last six birds remaining in the wilderness can either be left there to take their chances with alarmingly high mortality statistics or they can be placed in captivity before they are shot, poisoned or killed by explosive cyanide devices known as “coyote-getters”.

Tyson’s framing of those 2 choices reveal his preference. The writer goes on to criticize the Audubon Society for taking legal action to stop efforts to capture those last 6 birds.

USA Today published “Pros and Condors” in the newspaper’s 17 April 1996 issue. The editors observed that the future for California’s Dehli Sands fly was “bleak” because this endangered species lacked the “panache” of another endangered species, the California condor.

“Birds and Ammo” was the title of an editorial in the 26 September 2007 issue of the Los Angeles Times. Here are the first sentences:

The gun lobby certainly knows how to take aim and fire. Unfortunately, this time the target is a partial ban on lead hunting ammunition, to give the California condor a better chance at survival.

After years of dithering while the rare birds commonly showed overexposure to lead, the state this year appeared on the verge of requiring hunters to use non-lead ammunition in the condors’ range. That’s important, because the evidence shows the carrion eaters ingest the lead while feasting on carcasses left by hunters.

The ban is so reasonable and so overdue, it’s hard to fathom why the state hasn’t acted long before. The federal government has outlawed lead ammunition in its waterways because of the potential for poisoning birds.

Calling on then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to support legislation to restrict lead ammunition, the editors concluded:

Schwarzenegger chose the condor as an icon to go on the California quarter, even though there are only about 70 wild birds left in the state. We hope he’s planning to preserve the California condor as more than an image on a coin.

01 Gun controls beyond Washington

A decade and a day later (27 September 2017) the lead editorial in the New York Times continued the lead-ammunition story with “Gun Controls Beyond Washington”. The editorial begins:

The majestic, though vulturous, California condor is once again soaring above the wilds….

The condor population could not have rebounded if the California Legislature had not bucked the National Rifle Association and passed an enlightened bill to control what experts found to be the main threat to the condor’s existence – the use of toxic, lead-based ammunition by hunters.

This editorial is accompanied by Chris Gash’s roosting condor:

02 Gash artwork

The black and white image above is from the print version of the New York Times. The online version of the editorial features a color version of Gash’s artwork.

For more on the California quarter-dollar coin, see the previous post Thank you, Governor Schwarzenegger.

For more on the USA Today editorial noted above, see the previous post Word play.