July 18, 2008

Condor Sanctuary Seeks Help

By Daniel Lopez, The Monterey County Herald, Calif.

Jul. 18--The Ventana Wildlife Society has established an emergency fund to help rebuild its condor sanctuary damaged by the Basin Complex Fire.

Kelly Sorenson, the society's executive director, said the plan is for cleanup efforts to begin Tuesday at its facility in the Ventana Wilderness of the Los Padres National Forest.

"We are gearing up for it," he said.

Among the needed repair work is rebuilding breeding pens destroyed when the fire swept through the area.

The Ventana Wildlife Society is the only nonprofit group in California that breeds condors for introduction to the wild.

The bird was declared an endangered species in 1967, when its population -- estimated to be 50 to 60 birds at the time -- was in sharp decline because of poaching, habitat destruction and lead poisoning.

In the 1980s, the U.S. government approved an ambitious and costly conservation plan that brought the last of the nearly two dozen surviving California condors into captivity for a breeding program.

Since 1997, almost half of California's condors have been reintroduced into the wild at the condor sanctuary operated by the Ventana Wildlife Society.

Of the 25 condors living in the wilderness area affected by the Basin Complex Fire, all but one have been accounted for. The missing condor is 3 years old, Sorenson said.

The society's staff members determined that two of three nesting condor chicks around the fire survived. The nest of the third condor is deep in the wilderness in a redwood tree where it has been impossible to confirm whether the chick is alive.

Tracking systems used to keep tabs on wild condors indicate when a parent returns to the nest, Sorenson said. A sure sign the chick survived will be if it flies from the nest.

Meanwhile, firefighters said, the Basin Complex Fire's controlled burns on Chews Ridge and along Carmel Valley Road went well Thursday and are expected to continue toward the southeast with mopping up along Carmel Valley Road in the days to come.

Along the fire's north edge, similar burn-outs are expected to proceed east of Devil's Ridge.

On the coastal side, fire crews have begun repair work to roads and fences damaged during the three-week fight to protect the Big Sur community.

At 7:30 p.m. Thursday, the mandatory evacuation of Tassajara Road and parts of Cachagua Road was changed to voluntary, and formerly closed roads in the area were ordered open to residents and their employees.

Officials said that starting at 10 a.m. today, the mandatory evacuation along Carmel Valley Road from Martin Road to Piney Creek Road will be changed to voluntary.

The American Red Cross has closed its emergency evacuation centers at Greenfield High School and Carmel Middle School.

An estimated 5,000 acres burned during the day, and the fire has consumed 128,350 acres since it began June 21 from lightning strikes.

A public meeting will be held at 6 p.m. today at Tularcitos Elementary School in Carmel Valley.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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Copyright (c) 2008, The Monterey County Herald, Calif.

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