Oregon Zoo awarded $2 million to help California condors

By Alex Hasenstab (OPB)
Jan. 8, 2023 2 p.m.

The conservation of a critically endangered bird species received a major funding boost. The Oregon Zoo was awarded $2 million to support the conservation of the California condor — funding that came from the year-end omnibus bill signed by President Joe Biden.

The Condor Restoration Resiliency Project will modernize the zoo’s offsite Jonsson Center for Wildlife Conservation, located in rural Clackamas County. The center is the second-largest of the nation’s four condor breeding facilities.


“They were the first animal to be added onto the endangered species act in the ‘70s and they’re one of the more charismatic animals and really important success stories in the conservation realm,” said Travis Koons, who runs the program.

In recent years, wildfires and winter storm power outages have forced evacuations at the center.


“We have several plans to upgrade our electrical backup systems,” Koons said. “We currently have generators that power our incubation equipment and a few other very important items critical to our operations.”

FILE - In this June 21, 2017, file photo, a California condor takes flight in the Ventana Wilderness east of Big Sur, Calif.

FILE - In this June 21, 2017, file photo, a California condor takes flight in the Ventana Wilderness east of Big Sur, Calif.

Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP

The program will also use the $2 million, championed by Sens. Merkley and Wyden as part of a package of Oregon investments, to create wildfire resiliency at the center.

“We’re actually going to be investing in improving our relationship with beavers that have made the property their home and trying to utilize some of their natural abilities to mitigate wildfire risk,” Koons said.

He added that the center will also purchase equipment to improve our firebreaks and add protective coatings to barns. The center is also considering a sprinkler system.

The California condor was one of the original animals included on the 1973 Endangered Species Act. In 1982, only 22 of these birds remained in the wild. By 1987, the last condors were brought into human care in an attempt to save the species from extinction.

The Oregon Zoo joined the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service condor recovery effort in 2003 with the goal of hatching and releasing as many condors as possible. Today, thanks to this recovery partnership, there are around 500 condors, with more than 300 flying free. This year, the zoo hatched a record 12 condor chicks and released eight into the wild, including three for the Yurok Tribe’s historic Northern California reintroduction.