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 The Trek: The Journals

•
Team: South
Jan Nesset
Wednesday, September 4
The Condors Are Coming!
Nearly a decade ago while attempting to climb to the 21,200-feet summit of Bolivia’s Mt. Illimani, a shadow zipped under my feet. Looking up, a giant bird with a white tufted collar soared by. It was unmistakably an Andean condor. What a lucky day!

Today may be another one of those days. With us is Chris Parish, the Peregrine Fund Director who guides the California condor reintroduction in Arizona. He’s one of today’s focal points although we are also in the company of several people who represent the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and The Peregrine Fund. By the end of the day we are all hoping to see a condor.

We listen and learn about the management issues of the North Kaibab Forest and the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Vermillion Cliffs is one of the newest national monuments, signed in ink by President Bill Clinton in 2000. It is also the site of the California condor reintroduction program in Arizona.

In the 1980s the condor population in the United States was down to 22 birds. The decision was made to intervene, which meant all the condors had to be captured to be protected. By Easter 1997, the last wild condor was put into captivity.

The overall goal of the California Condor Recovery Plan is to reclassify the species from endangered to threatened. The minimum criteria for reclassification is to maintain at least two non-captive condor populations and one captive population. Each non-captive population must have 150 individuals and 15 breeding pairs. The populations must be reproductively self-contained and have a positive rate of population growth.

There are now 70 condors in the wild; 27 of them in Arizona. How did that happen?

Well, to begin with the odds were stacked against the condors because of the inexperience and lack of knowledge of anybody on the planet, including the people put in charge of protecting them. But sometimes the right people land in the right place at the right time for the right reasons. It looks as if that may be the story of the California condor. The folks from The Peregrine Fund were enlisted. It also didn’t hurt that condors are a “fantastically resilient” bird, said Parish.

The obstacles the condor team had to overcome were many, in particular those that make the condor special. Condors do not reproduce until they’re 8 years of age although they become sexually mature in 5 to 6 years. They do not produce more than one egg at a time. The egg hatches at 56 days but the young do not fledge until 6 months. Condors take care of their young for up to 18 months which takes them out of the breeding population for a year.

Also, condors have an innate lack of fear for humans and the young that are reared in captivity quickly imprint on humans. That’s a good way to either get killed or taken back into captivity. The biologists have learned how to bypass the human imprinting by masking their forms and handling the chicks with an adult condor puppet. “We use puppet condor heads to teach the young birds how to be condors,” said Parish.

A plus for the condor is that they can live to 50 to 70 years. If a condor can stay healthy it will have many opportunities to breed and raise young.

Here’s something interesting. Because there are so few condors there are questions about genetic bottlenecking. Parish says that genetic bottlenecking is not as much of a problem as it is with other mammals, but the most genetically pure condors stay in captivity to reduce the chances that they’ll be injured or killed. The condors with less pure genes go free.

Parish has a good feeling for the condor. He thinks they’ll make it. He said that the condor releases wouldn’t have happened if it were not for Article 10-J of the Endangered Species Act which basically says that the releases would happen only if they were classified as experimental and non-essential. The releases must not affect existing, on-going activities of the government agencies who manage the involved lands. The Peregrine Fund bears the primary burden of the politics and functions of the condor program.

At a viewing site below the Vermillion Cliffs where the condors are released, Parish used a radio telemetry devise to determine whether there were condors in the area. Each condor has a telemetry devise fastened to its wing. Two were in the area, but we couldn’t see them. If the winds are just right, condors can soar all day. “This is a great day for flying,” remarked Parish, who said condors are capable of soaring 300 miles in a day.

I asked Parish where were the top three places in the area people could go to see condors. He said, “Lookout Studio, Lookout Studio, Lookout Studio.” That’s a Grand Canyon lookout.

We didn’t see condors but regardless today is another lucky day. We learn that the stars are aligned in favor of the California condor.



for Wednesday, September 4
North South Both




Biographical
•
Team: South
Jan Nesset
An experienced outdoorsman, Jan Nesset knows that everyone has to pitch in at camp
A native of Montana and the third of four children, Jan Nesset joins American...
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List of All Journal Entries
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Wednesday, April 28
Jan Nesset
American Frontiers: Part II: Taking Stock
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Sunday, December 1
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Canyonlands in December
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Thursday, November 21
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Sunday, November 17
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The Bisti Badlands
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Friday, November 15
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Public Land Flows Through It
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Thursday, November 7
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A Day At Earth Analytic's Home
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Tuesday, October 29
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Slot Canyon Adventure
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Monday, October 28
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Some Things Never Change
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Sunday, October 27
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Monday, October 7
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The Thing About Summits
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Saturday, September 28
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A New Beginning: National Public Lands Day
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Thursday, September 26
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Big Day of Sneak and Salvage
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Wednesday, September 25
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History-Coated Strawberry
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Tuesday, September 24
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The Last Of It
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Monday, September 23
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Dinosaurlandia
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Sunday, September 22
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Over The Edge
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Saturday, September 21
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God Bless America
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Friday, September 20
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Sometimes It's A Tough Life And We Get To Do It
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Thursday, September 19
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The Niche Near You
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Wednesday, September 18
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Snow Day
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Tuesday, September 17
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A Capitol Reef Bull's Eye
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Monday, September 16
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A Lucky Rift
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Sunday, September 15
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Riding The Hog's Back
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Saturday, September 14
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Oh Rhythm My Rhythm
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Friday, September 13
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Precious Images
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Thursday, September 12
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From the Hole to the Staircase
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Wednesday, September 11
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Happy Days
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Tuesday, September 10
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Do You Believe In Magic?
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Monday, September 9
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The Bridge Over the River Why
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Sunday, September 8
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Public Lands And…Not You?
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Saturday, September 7
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That Place So Special
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Friday, September 6
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Just Looking To Have Some Fun – Be Dammed!
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Thursday, September 5
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Do The Wave
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Wednesday, September 4
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The Condors Are Coming!
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Tuesday, September 3
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Fires Are For The Birds
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Monday, September 2
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Back On Top
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Sunday, September 1
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Perfection
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Saturday, August 31
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The Wheels Have Left The Tarmac
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Friday, August 30
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Star Light
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Thursday, August 29
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The Traditional Connection
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Wednesday, August 28
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Onward and Upward On Mountain Bikes
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Tuesday, August 27
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Checkerboard Kings and Queens
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Monday, August 26
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Aldo Leopold As Ranch Manager
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Sunday, August 25
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A Story In Everything
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Saturday, August 24
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Fire In The Whole
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Friday, August 23
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"Good Morning, Flagstaff!"
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Thursday, August 22
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Hoping For The Best
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Wednesday, August 21
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Could Get Stinky
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Tuesday, August 20
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Wheels Asunder
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Monday, August 19
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Hurt Me, Thank You!
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Sunday, August 18
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Roads Aplenty and Rocks of Pleasure
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Saturday, August 17
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Of Dragons and Fire
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Friday, August 16
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Motorcycles and the Zen of Route Mechanics
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Thursday, August 15
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Puzzled
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Wednesday, August 14
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A Day Off, Sort Of
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Tuesday, August 13
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A Delightful, Light Day
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Monday, August 12
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Courage On Eagle Mountain
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Sunday, August 11
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Farewell
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Saturday, August 10
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My Aching Back In The Saddle
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Friday, August 9
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Back In The Saddle
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Thursday, August 8
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In The Saddle
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Wednesday, August 7
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Shut My Mouth!
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Tuesday, August 6
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Diversity and Song
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Monday, August 5
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An Unraveling
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Sunday, August 4
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A Bagged Peak
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Saturday, August 3
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Lines On A Map
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Friday, August 2
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GPS-Marriage Made In Heaven
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Thursday, August 1
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Free Wheelin'
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Wednesday, July 31
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An Excellent Start
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