The California condor (Gymnogyps californianus) was federally listed as an endangered species in 1967 and listed as endangered by the state of California in 1971. The need for establishing California condor release site(s) within Yurok Ancestral Territory derives from federal and state management goals for the species, as well as mandated by the Constitution of the Yurok Tribe to restore habitat and species integral to Yurok cultural and religious practices.
The California condor had a wide geographic distribution in North America prior to the late Pleistocene megafauna extinctions. The species was limited to the west coast from British Columbia to Baja California by the 17th century, and by the mid-20th century to a small range in central and southern California. Numerous factors contributed to the historical reduction in the condor population, but most seem to be tied to anthropogenic (human caused) factors after European contact. Wild game and marine mammal populations, condor food resources, were decimated through over-hunting; hunting was primarily done with lead ammunition, which is extremely toxic to condors; domestic animal carcasses were laced with strychnine to eliminate terrestrial predators and unwary condors; and many condors were shot and killed for museum collection purposes or because they were perceived as threats to livestock or humans, which are misunderstandings about the large, but non-aggressive, obligate scavenger.
As a result of this variety of factors, by the 1980’s, the total population had declined to only 22 condors, all of which were taken into captivity by biologists from the California Condor Recovery Program, established by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to begin a captive breeding program in an effort to increase the population. Condors bred well in captivity and by 1992, reintroductions to the wild began. By 2009, 189 individuals were free-flying across central and southern California, Baja California, and Arizona.