As a hub of condor activity and research opportunities, June 2013 Final Comprehensive Conservation Plan 15 Bitter Creek NWR is a unique keystone at the nexus of two mountain ranges encompassing much of the historical California condor range and serving as an important wildlife corridor.
The refuge protects habitat within an important east/west running mountain range and provides movement corridors for populations of native ungulates, raptors, and other wildlife.
Condor and other wildlife movements extend beyond refuge boundaries and exemplify the Service’s contribution to a much larger conservation initiative as we partner with public and private landowners. Alongside these charismatic animals, so, too, can lesser known and rare wildlife and plant species thrive within this intact and functioning ecosystem. Also protected on the refuge are Native American cultural resources and remnants of 19th century homesteads.
Historically, the Bitter Creek area was used as a cattle ranch and used extensively by wild condors before all remaining wild condors were brought into captivity in 1987. Interest in acquiring the refuge property was initiated when plans to subdivide the area for development were made public. Conservation organizations maintained that substantial development and the associated increase in human activity would not be compatible with the condors’ use of the area (USFWS 2008a). In 1985, acting under the authority of the Endangered Species Act, with Land and Water Conservation funding, approximately 800 acres of the former Hudson Ranch and adjoining properties were acquired by the Service to conserve plants and wildlife listed as endangered species or threatened species. Although the refuge provides habitat for several listed species, the primary goal for the establishment of the refuge was to preserve essential foraging and roosting habitat for the California condor (USFWS 1975).
Lands within the future Bitter Creek NWR were categorized as essential foraging habitat in the original Biological Assessment for establishment of the refuge (Lawrence 1983). In 1987, the Service acquired an additional 11,944 acres of the former Hudson and Hoag ranches. Since 1987, the Service has continued to work with willing landowners on various land exchanges to consolidate refuge lands with mutual management benefits (e.g., exchanging outlying refuge lands for private in-holdings within the approved acquisition boundary). Because the Service’s land acquisition program is based on willing sellers, not all lands within the approved acquisition boundary will become part of the refuge. Today, the approved acquisition boundary includes 23,572 acres, of which the Service owns 14,097 acres in fee title.