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CONCERNS OF RESIDENTS DELAY RELEASE OF CONDORS IN ARIZONA.

Byline: Marni McEntee Daily News Staff Writer

The release of California condors in the Grand Canyon has been postponed at least a month while wildlife officials negotiate with local residents who fear that laws protecting the birds would restrict their land-use rights.

After two public hearings on the release of up to nine condors at the 1,000-foot Vermilion Cliffs in northern Arizona, officials decided to meet again with some residents to assuage their concerns, said Robert Mesta, condor program coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Prior efforts to protect a number of endangered species in the area have left residents distrustful of public agencies and new regulations, said Roger Carter, president of the Coalition of Resources and Economies (CORE), a residents' coalition.

Specifically, residents near the release site in Kane County blame the decline of the timber industry in southern Utah and northern Arizona on federal rules protecting the Mexican spotted owl and the northern goshawk, he said.

"This is not an issue of birds, it's an issue of trust," Carter said.

Nine of the huge vultures are being readied at the Los Angeles Zoo for release. They are undergoing hazing by zoo workers to scare them away from human contact and power lines once they enter the wild.

Already, delays caused by the government furlough last year and this latest postponement may complicate the birds' release, said Michael Wallace, a zoo curator and head of the Condor Recovery Team.

The best time to release the birds would have been in November or December, when they were about seven or eight months old and their behavior was more predictable.

"This hurried schedule is not that Fish and Wildlife is trying to do something quickly to limit public comment. It's because we're trying to maintain the best biological situation for the birds," Wallace said.

Fish and Wildlife intends to introduce the California condor to the Grand Canyon under a special provision of the Endangered Species Act meant to ensure the release won't affect local land uses such as mines, ranches and other projects, Mesta said.

The so-called "experimental, non-essential" designation means that if any of the birds are accidentally killed by humans, no one will be held accountable, Mesta said.

The birds still are protected from intentional harm or killing under the act.

But Carter said CORE group members remain skeptical that the agency won't revert later to stricter protections under the Endangered Species Act, which could hold people liable for even accidental deaths.

CORE, which is based in Kanab but also represents officials in Fredonia, Arizona, and Kane County, Utah, wants the Fish and Wildlife Service to promise that the condors would remain classified under the less-restrictive designation.

If federal biologists cannot promise not to alter the birds' status later, the group will recommend that local municipalities file a court injunction to stop the release, Carter said.

Fish and Wildlife Service officials plan to meet with group members next week to hammer out a memorandum of understanding on the deal, Mesta said.

"I think at this point we're trying to do everything it takes to satisfy their concerns, and if that's not enough I don't know where to look," Mesta said.

Kane County Commissioner Stephen R. Crosby said some suspect the timing of the condor release is another attempt by environmentalists to interfere with the proposed Smoky Hollow coal mine near Lake Powell.

He said he would prefer that biologists postpone the release until the draft environmental report on that mine is released, which is expected by April or May.

The Grand Canyon release program is an important next step in a long-term plan to establish at least two separate wild condor populations, each with 150 birds and 15 breeding pairs.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jan 31, 1996
Words:625
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