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Trip to Hopper Mountain Refuge Highlights Condor Recovery for CNO Public Affairs Professionals
California-Nevada Offices , June 5, 2007
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CNO Public Affairs Team at Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge. From left: Stephanie Weagley, Carlsbad FWO; Christine Eustis, Washington Office; Chris Tollefson, Washington Office; Jane Hendron, Carlsbad FWO; Scott Flaherty and Alex Pitts, CNO; Jeannie Stafford, Nevada FWO; Al Donner, Sacramento FWO and Lois Grunwald, Ventura FWO.
CNO Public Affairs Team at Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge. From left: Stephanie Weagley, Carlsbad FWO; Christine Eustis, Washington Office; Chris Tollefson, Washington Office; Jane Hendron, Carlsbad FWO; Scott Flaherty and Alex Pitts, CNO; Jeannie Stafford, Nevada FWO; Al Donner, Sacramento FWO and Lois Grunwald, Ventura FWO. - Photo Credit: n/a
CNO Public Affairs Team with Hopper Mountain NWR hosts Chris Barr (center) and Jesse Grantham (right).  
CNO Public Affairs Team with Hopper Mountain NWR hosts Chris Barr (center) and Jesse Grantham (right).   - Photo Credit: n/a
CNO Public Affairs Annual Meeting guests Christine Eustis and Chris Tollefson enjoying the condor viewing.
CNO Public Affairs Annual Meeting guests Christine Eustis and Chris Tollefson enjoying the condor viewing. - Photo Credit: n/a

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) public affairs professionals from Reno, Sacramento, Ventura and Carlsbad met at the Ventura Fish and Wildlife Office June 5-7 to discuss public affairs issues in California and Nevada. Service Congressional and Legislative Affairs and Public Affairs Chiefs, Christine Eustis and Chris Tollefson also travelled from Washington, DC to participate.

CNO Public Affairs Officers, Jeannie Stafford (Reno), Al Donner, Scott Flaherty and Alex Pitts ( Sacramento), Lois Grunwald (Ventura), Jane Hendron and Stephanie Weagley (Carlsbad) meet annually to discuss public affairs concerns and learn from each other about ways to effectively communicate the Service's stories.

Agenda items included: a presentation by Ventura FWO Project Leader Diane Noda who illustrated the many challenges her office faces due to the diversity of habitats and a growing population as well as the many opportunities for the FWO to bring Service expertise to people and communities in her area;  A "knock it out of the ball park" field trip to Hopper Mountain NWR, hosted by Chris Barr, Deputy Project Leader for the Hopper Mountain NWRC and Condor Coordinator, Jesse Grantham; and in depth discussions with our Washington Office counterparts on how to make communication work more smoothly in the field and DC.

The highlight of the meeting was, without a doubt, the field trip to Hopper Mountain NWR.  After driving up incredibly steep mountain roads we found ourselves at the top of the Los Padres National Forest looking for condors.  It didn't take long.  After a few minutes, with help of biologist Joseph Brandt, we were soon seeing condors floating on thermals.  A short while later they were circling above us "checking us out"!  As they soared overhead, more and more condors flew in, possibly looking for lunch.  All told we saw fifteen adult (red heads) and juvenile (black heads)condors.  After our own lunch at the old ranch house on the refuge, we set out to view the holding pens used to raise and aclimatize condors. 

As we ate Jesse and Chris spoke to us about challenges to the condor recovery effort.  One of the more daunting is the overwhelming presence of and the condors interest in small pieces of garbage; plastic, hunks of metal and beer tops, collectively called microtrash.  Parent birds often pick up microtrash and feed it to their chicks in the nest.  Scientists are uncertain as to why the birds do this. Several chicks have had surgery to remove microtrash in order to survive. 

As if to illustrate the point, while driving up the road after an exhilarating day of condor spotting, Jeannie sighted a large group a condors congregating at an oil rig platform.  We quickly backtracked and then had  the strange experience of helping Chris and Jesse haze the birds off the platform.  The birds had been closely gathered around a plastic barrel which they had chipped at with their beaks. Nearby, a partially buried cable with a half section of PVC pipe over it had been exposed and the PVC chipped away as well.  The concern was that some of these birds would bring this plastic and PVC back to their chicks.  The site was generally clean but as Chris and Jesse pointed out condors are inquisitive and determined. 

Although the incident was visibly disturbing to Jesse and Chris, it provided a unique opportunity for the Service's communicators to see first hand the difficulties our biologists and managers have recovering this magnificent bird. The time Chris and Jesse devoted to our group was time well spent.  As is often the case, being in the field give those of us who tell the Service's stories the chance to learn details that help us speak with passion and insight.


Contact Info: Alexandra Pitts, 916 414 6619, scott_flaherty@fws.gov



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