July 8, 2008 in Nation/World

California wildfires endanger condor habitat

Steve Chawkins Los Angeles Times
Associated Press photo

With haze from burning wildfires in the background, California condor 94 takes off near deserted Highway 1 in Big Sur, Calif. Associated Press
(Full-size photo)

Among the residents of coastal Big Sur displaced by the remote area’s ongoing fire are dozens of endangered California condors that have been carefully bred and released into the Ventana Wilderness.

Two weeks ago, the Coast Guard airlifted eight young birds that were not ready for release from a holding pen at Andrew Molera State Park in Big Sur to another shelter at Pinnacles National Monument east of the Salinas Valley.

But wildlife experts are worried about the 43 condors living in the wild in the Big Sur area – particularly three chicks in nests within the fire zone.

“We can’t presume anything, but those chicks have a major uphill battle to survive,” said biologist Kelly Sorenson, executive director of the Ventana Wildlife Society.

Sorenson said the fire had kept observers out of condor territory for a week. Aerial surveillance indicated that one nest, high in a redwood tree, might have burned.

Thirty of the more mature condors living around Big Sur are banded with transmitters that beam a radio signal a short distance. Of the remaining 10, which carry more sophisticated GPS devices, one has been spotted as far away as Atascadero, about 100 miles southeast of Big Sur.

On Monday, fresh firefighting crews were brought in from Arizona and New Mexico to help battle the huge wildfire charging through the coastal mountains of Santa Barbara County.

With a heat wave forecast this week, firefighters on the blaze in the Los Padres National Forest tried to take advantage of Monday morning marine fog and a last day of moderate weather, said Stanton Florea, spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service.

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