Letters to the editors of the New York Times & Washington Post

As with a previous post, Letters to the editor of the Los Angeles Times: 1934-1981, this post is about the wide range of California-condor opinions and concerns. The letters here were published during the 2nd half of the 20th century in the New York Times or Washington Post.

In reading these letters, keep in mind that they were all published on the other side of the continent from where California condors live. In those pre-internet days, the New York Times and Washington Post were not the nation-wide newspapers they are today.

The letters below are in chronological order. For some, I include my comments (in this regular font).

Robert S. Brodey – “California Condor Menaced” (New York Times 15 June 1964)

The California condor, a living relic of the Pleistocene era … is … the largest North American land bird. Only 60 of these magnificent birds still exist in Los Padres National Forest ….

The Sierra Madre Ridge road proposed by the United States Forest Service would disturb this wilderness …. This rare species … may thus be given its final push into oblivion. This example of “brinksmanship” in the field of wildlife management is intolerable and must be stopped by an aroused public before it is too late.

Clinton P. Anderson – “Wilderness Bill” (New York Times 6 January 1968)

This next letter, by the U.S. Senator from New Mexico, concerns the expansion of a wilderness area in California, specifically, whether or not to include a particular 2,200 acres. Here is the relevant portion of the letter:

When the Senate Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs considered the San Rafael Wilderness proposal, we gave painstaking consideration to the values of the proposed 2,200-acre addition. We recognized that it contains attractive grass potreros and Indian pictographs and lies beneath a California condor flyway.

Peter Chandler – “The Next Generation of Condors” (Washington Post 14 April 1983)

This letter is a response to a derisive editorial (noted in the post Making fun). I chose these excerpts to get to the writer’s main point:

Once again man is ready to change the natural life cycles of the lower species, in this case the condor chick that has been hatched at the San Diego Zoo. Human intervention has already increased the possibility of extinction of the condor ….

Nature has provided a checks and balance system to control the population of the lower species, and if it were allowed to operate without human manipulation we would not have to be concerned with the extinction of the condor ….

Robert H. Deibel – “The Condors (Cont’d.)” (Washington Post 21 April 1983)

This letter is a response to the previous one.

I became very distressed when I read Peter Chandler’s letter ….

The successful hatching of the two condor chicks and the possibility of a third are rays of light in a very dark tunnel…. The successful reintroduction of peregrine falcons to the wild provides me with optimism that this, too, will work.

If we all had the same attitude as Mr. Chandler, a few years from now we would … read an article … that said the last California condor … died the previous day and the species is now extinct.

Mark Lucianovic – “The Last Female Condor” (Washington Post 25 January 1986)

I am disturbed that only seven lines were used for the announcement of the death of the only remaining female California condor …. The Post neglected to inform its readers than now only five such birds remain in the world.

All five birds are male. Once this generation dies out, the California condor will be extinct. This unhappy but important event surely requires more than seven lines. I suggest you print a longer article about the condor ….

Fortunately, the writer was not correct. The news item he referred to announced the death of the “only known breeding female” (emphasis added). There were other females alive and they proved capable of breeding.

Stanley E. Senner – “How the California Condor Can Be Saved” (New York Times 28 May 1986)

Your news article on a policy dispute among California experts … presents a rather one-sided view ….

You imply that the debate over condor policy pits environmentalists against the Federal Government and that the position of the National Audubon Society is representative of environmentalists’ views. This is not the case. Contrary to Audubon, such organizations as the Raptor Research Foundation, the U.S. section of the International Council for Bird Preservation, our association [Hawk Mountain Sanctuary Association] and other organizations have called for the capture of all or most wild condors.

While all interested parties share the goal of restoring free-flying condors to the wild, the means are in dispute.

This letter was accompanied by a photo of a California condor.

David Wilcove and David W. Johnston – “Days of the Condor” (Washington Post 28 April 1987)

This is a pair of letters. From Wilcove:

The [recently-published] editorial on the demise of the California condor … was tongue-in-cheek and foot-in-mouth. The Post accuses the condor of suffering from “a notoriously unhealthy life style.” But let’s examine what that “life style” is all about: a need for wilderness, an intolerance of poisons …, an aversion to excessive human disturbance – hardly unhealthy in my book. The fate of the condor should be a warning to all of us. What we have here is a big, black canary in a coal mine – and that canary is dying.

From Johnston:

Long-term preservation of this magnificent bird, whether in the wild or in captivity, is made more problematic and controversial because it did and still does exist in such small numbers.

William S. Pfriender and Jan Alscher – “Caring for the Condor” (New York Times 1 November 1987)

This is another pair of letters, both concerning condor mating in captivity and both of a lighter-hearted nature. From Pfriender:

… shouldn’t those poor birds be entitled to some privacy in their own condorminiums?

From Alscher:

Is it possible that the endangered condors are unsuccessful in mating because of those awful names, AC-4 and UN-1?

How about Arthur and Eunice? Herman and Gertrude? Paul and Joanne?

(I expect that “Paul and Joanne” refers to the Newmans. But I can’t figure out the other 2 couples. If you can, please Contact me.)

Jerome Hamlin – “Capture of ‘Fossil Fish’ Also Promotes Its Survival” (New York Times 9 April 1988)

Contrary to Dr. [Hans] Fricke, we believe that survival of the coelacanth demands a program of human intervention as with the panda, the whooping crane, the California condor and other rare species. Otherwise, we fear they may simply be fished out or eaten to extinction, as is happening on the Comorean island of Anjouan.

Lenore Epstein and Jim Bolin – “Remodeling the Condor” (New York Times 8 December 1991)

This is also a pair of letters. From Epstein:

It was with an aching heart that I read … about the United States Fish and Wildlife Service’s plans for its captive California condors …. In efforts like the breed and release program … we wrongfully affirm our right to modify nature to our liking.

The tragedy is not so much the extinction of this big, graceful, sexy animal at the top of the food chain as the loss of the ecosystems of which it was once an integral part.

From Bolin:

I am baffled…. How can California continue the use of lead shot, given that it is a proven killer not only of condors but also of waterfowl and other wildlife?

Banning lead shot would enable the California condor to lead a more nearly wild existence, rather than having to rely on food set out by forest rangers in what amounts to zoos without cages.

The good news here is that California is making considerable progress with eliminating the use of lead ammunition.

I am struck that several of these letters are founded on incorrect or inadequate information. This reminds me of the need to be cautious before offering my opinions and concerns.