I think it’s fair to say that the main audience for Field & Stream magazine is people who experience and enjoy the outdoors primarily by hunting and fishing. Nevertheless, the California condor has found its way into this magazine over the decades. Here’s a look at 4 articles, from the 1930s, 1950s, 1980s, and 1990s.
This cover art conveys what the magazine is about:
The September 1939 issue of Field & Stream includes H H Sheldon’s “What Price Condor?”
The article begins:
While war was sparking along the fuse toward the powder-keg which is Europe and bombs in the Orient and Spain were blasting women and children to bits, a Santa Barbara newspaper ran bold head-lines warning of the threatened extinction of the California condor and urged conservation measures to preserve it.
But Sheldon is not just concerned with the poor timing of the concern about the condor’s survival.
Few in the East have heard of it. Few in the West have seen it…. And so little is known about it … that conservationists actually believe it can be saved from extinction by setting up sanctuaries for its use.
The author’s assessment of the California condor is on full display:
There is nothing impressive about the condor except his size.
He looks like a cross between an executioner and an undertaker.
He displays all the characteristics of a hog, and some that the most disreputable hog would disown.
The article is supported by a number of photos by “Wm L. Finley and H. T. Bohlman”, including these:
Sheldon dismisses the concern of the many who believe that the condor population has long been diminished by indiscriminate shooting:
Since the condor is not a game bird, it has never been hunted for food. Once in a decade or so a hunter has taken a pot shot at one for target practice.
The author’s conclusion is clear:
… the condor is an anachronistic survivor from prehistoric epochs.
The condor is too unwieldy in structure, development and habits to adapt himself to the radical changes which are taking place in man’s unbalancing of nature. He is being exterminated by the onward march of civilization.
I am a naturalist and a conservationist, and believe the passing of any species to extinction would affect me with more regret than would assail the average, disinterested individual. But to set aside a sanctuary in the belief that the condor will continue to exist is to act without knowledge of the facts.
For Sheldon, it all comes down to the California condor versus the loss of access to recreational land.
Ed Ainsworth’s “Condor Crusade”, published in June 1954, is an entirely different kind of article.
This is primarily an adventure tale. Having learned of a California condor nest in a giant sequoia tree, a team of adventurers – including condor experts Carl Koford and Ed Harrison – work to get a camera and photographer up an adjacent tree.
The resulting photo of the nest and young bird speaks for itself:
The tale having been told, Ainsworth writes admiringly about the bird and reviews the current state of the controversy over condor management.
The article concludes in a mood that was common in the 1950s:
Meanwhile the great birds soar over the wild mountains and stare into the deep valleys. They are drifting into oblivion on the air currents of the ages. The last of their race, they are prey to the twentieth century’s progress and the inexorable march of time.
When George Reiger’s “Why Save Endangered Species?” appeared in January 1989, all California condors were in captivity. Unlike Sheldon’s earlier article, Reiger is not opposed to efforts to protect condors. However, Reiger shares Sheldon’s adverse view of the experts working in support of the condor:
Part of the problem people have with endangered species is created by wildlife scientists who are so absorbed with the importance of their own work, they forget that the public, which pays the bills, has a different objective than theirs. We want to see endangered species unendangered; the scientists do, too, but their priority is knowledge …
… it is undeniable than when the last condor was taken from the mountains of Southern California, the last major obstacle to the heedless human use of those mountains was removed, making it more certain that [there] will never again be suitable condor habitat.
Although the California condor … has begun breeding in captivity, the birds reproduce so slowly that their long-term prospects for wild rehabilitation are dim. The various state, federal, and private agencies involved in their recovery process are doing more bickering over political and economic turf than protecting … condor habitat.
Reiger makes a claim about those engaged in condor recovery that I have not seen elsewhere:
The logical location for the restoration of wild condors is the Grand Canyon … Unfortunately, this scenario is unlikely to occur so long as California authorities reject the idea of “their” condor flying free in other states….
Reiger’s article does conclude with some simple and useful guidance for those concerned about endangered species:
People care about habitat when they know about the critters that live there.
People care about what they comprehend. And they care most about people or creatures that need our help or protection.
The 4th article concerning the condor is “Buzzard!” by Joel M Vance from April 1993. This article is identified as being “For young sportsmen”. Here’s the 1st paragraph:
Buzzards, also known as vultures, are one of nature’s most graceful birds in the air, but just about the ugliest on the ground. Of the three types of buzzards found in North America, the turkey vulture is by far the most common …Other types are the black vulture of the South and the endangered California condor.
The article goes on to provide good information about soaring flight and the ecological value of carrion eaters. I find the emphasis on non-standard terminology to be unfortunate. Why refer to “type” instead of species? Why favor “buzzard” over vulture?
During the 20th century, Field & Stream magazine provided a perspective on the California condor different from that of bird-enthusiasts and environmentalists. By doing so, Field & Stream made important contributions to the ongoing debate over what, if anything, should be “done” about the condor.
A related post focused on the history of condor content in a magazine is Sports Illustrated. For more on what I refer to above as the “mood” of the 1950s, see A 1953 television show. For more on journalist Ed Ainsworth’s role in the human-condor saga, search for his last name under the header FIND CONTENT (somewhere on this screen – it depends on your device).