The National Audubon Society’s 1976 symposium

On 23 October 1976, the National Audubon Society held its Symposium on the California Condor in San Rafael, California. The speakers included representatives from Audubon and from state and federal government agencies. In this post I offer a brief report based on the published proceedings of the symposium.

The symposium’s proceedings were given the title “The California Condor – 1977” (even though the meeting was in 1976). These proceedings were edited by Philip P. Schaeffer and Sharyn M. Ehlers.

01 Cover - NAS 1976 symposium

Unfortunately, the artist responsible for the nice drawing on the cover is not credited.

Here is the entire table of contents:

02 ToC - NAS 1976 symposium

In his introduction, Paul M. Howard, Jr. of the National Audubon Society, stated the symposium’s purpose:

We are here today because we care. We are concerned. We want to learn the facts from the experts and then hopefully do something about [that] which some of us have heard is a dismally discouraging situation.

John Borneman, the National Audubon Society’s “condor naturalist”, provided an overview of natural history and of interactions between humans and condors. Borneman concludes with details of recent condor injuries and deaths. This gave me a sense of the concern – nearly a half-century ago – about threats to and the survival of individual birds.

The California Department of Fish and Game’s representative, Robert D. Mallette, told of efforts to better understand how many condors there are, where they are living, and their reproductive success. He noted:

Cost to conduct a survey [census] is high. During a year when we had approximately 130 observers, the cost of such a survey was $22,580. This figure reflects both the actual costs for state and federal personnel as well as the estimated costs for the time and expenses of the volunteer observers.

Billy K. Muldowney from the (federal government’s) Forest Service began:

Prospects for survival of the California condor are not promising even with many far-reaching steps taken to protect this majestic bird. The peril to the condor is attributed to encroachment by man.

I found this point by Muldowney to be particularly important:

Until the mid 1960’s, it had been accepted philosophy that minimizing publicity about the condor’s problems would keep the curious public from disturbing the birds. However, the continuing decline of the species suggested that the lack of publicity may have had a detrimental effect. Moreover, widespread opposition to restricting land use and other protective measures indicated an uninformed public could not relate to the condor and its problems.

Muldowney concluded:

New ideas, energy and purposeful assistance are needed to keep these amazing and magnificent creatures alive.

Bill Radtkey from the (federal government’s) Bureau of Land Management highlighted a new law that allowed his agency to acquire private lands to achieve its management purposes, such as protecting California condor habitat.

Sanford R. Wilbur of the (federal government’s) Fish and Wildlife Service detailed plans for protecting the California condor from extinction. A decade before the captive breeding part of the program was fully implemented, Wilbur said:

It has been quite a while since people started working on the condor’s survival problems, and a lot of good things have been done. If those good things hadn’t been done we probably wouldn’t be worrying about the California condor today. I suspect the condor would be gone.

This is a good reminder that people have been working for a long time on behalf of the great birds.

Wilbur concluded:

I can’t … guarantee the captive propagation program will be effective. Also, there is the question that even if we are completely successful with the program, are we going to be in time?… Maybe we’re beyond recovery right now.

I found 3 points in the discussion section of the symposium to be of particular interest. Here’s Wilbur again, this time concerning condor habitat:

From economic and ecological standpoints, the Coast Range appears that it is going to be in better shape for the foreseeable future than some of the area now occupied by the Sespe-Sierra condors. However, we must plan ahead to make sure the area will still be there once we have birds to release to the wild.

California’s central coast region is now home to a substantial and growing population of California condors.

Mallette noted that:

Funds from [the personalized license plate program] have been utilized in acquiring [private land] both around and within the Sespe Condor Sanctuary.

My memory is that personalized license plates became available in California in the 1970s so these funds had a quick, positive impact for the condor.

Finally, here’s Wilbur again:

When we started finding problems with [thin] egg shells and the one bird that had high concentrations of pesticides in its body, we were really surprised. We just did not anticipate this problem with … vultures.

In any significant endeavor, unexpected difficulties arise. Fortunately, with the right expertise, difficult and significant tasks can still be accomplished.

The California condor has come a long way since 1976.

A previous post offered my report on a similar event: Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society’s 1981 conference.