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Ghost Canyons of the Condors

June 23, 1985|EVELYN De WOLFE

Sailing on motionless wings over the peaks of Devil's Heart and Topatopa, the California condor could now look down on its "home, sweet home."

The King of the Skies had won a safe home at last!

It was 1951 when the jubilant announcement was made, designating 35,200 rugged acres in Ventura County as a perpetual refuge for some 60 remaining birds of the vanishing species known as the gymnogyps Californius , the largest among North American birds.

This meant the end of a long struggle involving conservationists, oil drilling interests and developers.

The final decision was a compromise that would give the condor a protected home and allow for further oil exploration outside of a 10,000-acre sanctuary core that lay just west of Piru Creek and north of Fillmore in the Los Padres National Park. It also decreed that no oil well would be placed within a half a mile of a known condor nest on sanctuary land.

New concerns surround the condor issue today.

With the condor population reduced to what appears to be only nine of the species left in the wild, developers are eyeing the vast picturesque land with renewed expectations and argue that with so few condors left, why shouldn't restrictions on developments be eased?

Meanwhile, there is talk that the benign landlord, the Fish & Wildlife Service, may have to temporarily place the surviving birds under "protective custody."

Perhaps the condors, traveling their aerial freeways a mile or so beyond their nests, could see the encroaching signs of human activity and retreated deeper into their mountain caves and canyon hollows, resigned to a fate equal to that of the now extinct great auk and passenger pigeon.

Perhaps because they are slow breeders and carrion feeders, condors no longer stand a chance in a modern environment, where campers make increased use of forest areas, where drilling noises offset the whispering of the wind, and planes thunder through the skies.

Historians can usually explain why humans leave ghost towns behind, but can they ever tell us why condors left us their ghost canyons?

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