Monterey County

Soberanes Fire threatens California condor habitat in Big Sur

Soberanes Fire impacts California Condor

MONTEREY COUNTY, Calif. - As the Soberanes Fire continues to burn thousands of acres, it not only threatens homes and businesses but one of the area's most endangered species, the California condor.

Environmentalists spent years keeping the condors from becoming extinct and local biologists are keeping a close watch on the birds. There are more than 80 condors that soar above Big Sur. None have been killed by the fire, but flames are too close for biologist's comfort.

The fire, caused by an illegal campfire, has made its way just 8 miles from one of their nesting area.

"The fire is moving in the direction where the heaviest concentration, including nesting pairs in the wild with chicks that are only three months of age," said Ventana Wildlife Society Executive Director Kelly Sorenson. "So we're concerned, but so far so good."

Sorenson said his staff has been monitoring the condors' flight path around the fire on their computers.

"Every different color is a different condor. The active fire -- the red -- is the most recent and then it goes to orange, (and) yellow is the oldest," Sorenson said.

The Soberanes Fire is only 55 percent contained and has burned nearly 70,000 acres of land.

"It's still growing," said U.S. Forest Service spokesman Lee Beyer.  "We're doing some burning operations here along Big Sur and also up in the Seco zone above the Los Padres reservoir."

The condor is America's largest land bird, weighing more than 20 pounds, but California Fish and Wildlife said the condors can carry their weight and know when to flee a fire. The average wingspan of a California condor extends out to about 9 feet. Sorenson said those big wings that allow the birds to avoid the flames during the day.

"Condors don't fly at night so that's where the threat of wildfire is greatest when they're vulnerable at the roost. And if the fire were to change directions on them they might not be able to fly away," said Sorenson.

Sorenson said their goal is to completely restore the California condor to the wild. He said wildfires are a threat, but a bigger threat are lead bullets found inside condors' food sources.

You can go to the Ventana Wildlife Societies website for more information on non-lead ammunition.


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