Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society’s 1981 conference

In 1981, the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society held a conference concerning the California condor. A transcript was published the next year. However, this document is not currently in a library (at least a library that is part of the WorldCat network).

As I have an original copy of the conference proceedings, here are some details about the conference and excerpts from the presentations and discussions.

The proceedings of the day-long conference are 92 pages of single-spaced text typed on letter-size paper.

01 Title - Newberry 1981

A foreword by editor Linda Newberry explains:

This conference was held to investigate some of the following questions. How many California Condors are left? Are their numbers diminishing, increasing or remaining stable?… What are the effects of rodenticides and, or, hunting on the big raptor?… Should they be studied with “hands-on” research techniques …?… Should adult birds be taken out of the existing small population for use in a captive breeding program …? Should a different type of program be carried forth; one that uses a “passive” means of observation, and concentrates more heavily on preservation of the existing habitats …? Should we, as human beings, even further interfere at all, or is it, as some have suggested, time for the condor to become extinct?

Newberry’s foreword concludes:

There is nothing else on earth exactly like the California Condor. If it vanishes we will be missing a very essential part of the fabric of our lives. We must keep asking these questions. We must keep doing what we can to preserve all the parts of the web.

The speakers at the conference included the leading figures in condor conservation and senior representatives of scientific and environmental organizations:

02 Speakers - Newberrry 1981

More than 160 people attended. Only a third of the attendees acknowledged having seen a condor in the wild.

At the conference’s start, Richard Mewaldt read a statement from the American Ornithologists’ Union that included this:

… the California condor … has declined to a precariously low number, estimated at 25 to 30 birds, and all evidence suggests that the decline is continuing …

The controversy over what humans should do about that situation was soon apparent. Here’s ornithologist Brian Walton of the University of California:

I am familiar with battles between the environmental-conservation community and the political and business communities, but I have never seen, as in this conflict, such arousal of severe problems within the environmental conservation community itself.

This conflict, with its extremely emotional … drama, has blossomed … into what may be the most significant threat affecting the endangered California condor today.

The next 3 presentations came from one side of the controversy: Ornithologists John Ogden, from the National Audubon Society, and Noel Snyder, from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, plus John Borneman, also representing the National Audubon Society.

Early on, Ogden offered this:

I think that there is no question that the over all goal of our research program is to maintain, if at all possible, a viable population of California condors in their native range. I feel a little odd having to say that, but in the last few weeks I have met with several groups who have wondered if that was part of our objectives.

The presentations by Ogden and Snyder largely focused on their “hands-on” scientific research with condors and their proposals for further research and management. Borneman focused on the condor’s habitat needs and the threats to that habitat.

Notably, Borneman concluded by acknowledging the need for condor researchers to maintain stronger lines of communication with all of those “who are concerned about the condor.”

Then the presentations shifted to those critical of the scientific study and management of the California condor.

Eben McMillan expressed doubt about the commitment of those working for government agencies and the National Audubon Society:

… it isn’t going to be the Audubon Society’s representative, or the Fish and Wildlife Service representative that are going to save the condor. It is going to be the people that are going to save the condor, because we are the only ones that will stay on the job when things get tough.

Jerry Emory, the head of the Golden Gate chapter of the Audubon Society, spoke against the National Audubon Society’s position. His conclusion was conciliatory:

We feel our concerns are legitimate and we offer them in good faith and with all the best intentions for the condor.

David Phillips stated his organization’s position succinctly:

Friends of the Earth represents a position opposed to the capture of California condors [and] the handling of condors …

Phillips concluded by reading statement from David Brower, then head of Friends of the Earth:

There is good evidence that the condor can reproduce well enough to build its numbers back up, but not if this effort is offset by poisoning, shooting, invading, tinkering. Let there be a moratorium on these stresses …

By “invading, tinkering”, Brower meant handling, tagging, and the like. It’s a strong criticism of the condor scientists to equate their work with “poisoning, shooting”.

The proceedings concludes with comments from the speakers on each others’ presentations and questions for the speakers from the audience.

This question, read by the discussion moderator, caught my attention:

[Dorothy Lily] wants to know why we cannot try transferring some California condors to some place in the South American Andes where it is not so highly populated?

In fact, Andean condors were later released in southern California to prepare the way for the release there of captive-bred California condors.

For more on the controversy over how to “save” the California condor, see the posts Are nearly-extinct species “ruins”? and Let them evolve.

The drawing of a California condor that Linda Newberry created for the proceedings’ cover is shown in the post Still more black & white illustrations from books: 1953-1991.