Honoring Vince Gerwe
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service volunteer and California condor conservation hero
Vince Gerwe, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service volunteer and former president and founder of Friends of California Condors Wild and Free, observes condors through a spotting scope. Vince helped track condors as a volunteer and was instrumental to the recovery program. Credit: USFWS

By Ashley McConnell, Joseph Brandt, Debora Kirkland, Michael Glenn and David Ledig

We were saddened to hear of the passing of local conservation hero, Vince Gerwe. Gerwe served as a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service volunteer for more than 15 years, and was the founder and president of Friends of the California Condors Wild and Free, a non-profit partner dedicated to engaging local communities with the conservation and recovery of the endangered California condor.

In collaboration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Gerwe led countless tours of Bitter Creek and Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuges (NWRs) for more than 12 years, offering children and adults the remarkable experience of seeing California condors in the wild. He provided outreach and education programs, speaking to thousands of people at community events and gatherings.

“Vince was a tireless champion for California condors, outreach, education and wildlife conservation,” said Mike Glenn, outreach coordinator with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Ventura. “Vince’s booming voice could connect with each child in a crowd of 200 squirmy, squirrelly nine-year-olds.”

Vince Gerwe holds an endangered California condor outfitted with a transmitter and wing tag for tracking and monitoring. Photo courtesy of Vince Gerwe

Friends of California condors Wild and Free is a nonprofit organization whose purpose is promoting the recovery of the California Condor and the preservation of associated ecosystems for present and future generations through education, outreach, research and the support of cooperative stewardship.

“Vince was a force of nature. He did so much for California condors, it would be hard to list it all,” said Helen Johnson, current president of Friends of California Condors Wild and Free. “But for all the work he did, he always made it fun. His enthusiasm and love of the birds was contagious, and everywhere he went he spread a love of condors and conservation. Friends of California Condors Wild and Free are proud to carry on his legacy.”

As a Service volunteer, Gerwe carried out instrumental on-the-ground work to support management of Hopper Mountain and Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuges. He helped with everything from mowing, fence removal and trail clearing to tracking condors with radio telemetry and condor nest observations.

“He walked the entire fence line of the 15,000-acre Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge, cataloguing the condition of every foot of fence with photos,” said wildlife biologist Deb Kirkland, who worked alongside Gerwe for four years. “This was essential to planning fence maintenance and supporting land exchange negotiations.”

Vince’s tireless dedication to the condors and the refuges reminded everyone just how special those resources are and reached across state and U.S. borders. He tracked condors at Pinnacles National Park in central California and San Pedro Martir National Park in Baja California, Mexico, volunteered at the Vermillion Cliffs condor release site in northern Arizona, and transported condors from the World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise, Idaho to Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge, stopping off in Las Vegas to hand off condors destined for northern Arizona along the way.

“Vince was not only a dedicated volunteer and condor conservationist, he became a close friend to many of us who worked alongside him over the years,” said Joseph Brandt, senior wildlife biologist, who worked with Vince since 2006. “Everyone who crossed paths with Vince knew him as a friend. After finishing a hard days work, Vince was always ready to share a story over a cold or hot drink depending on the weather. He was simultaneously a wise elder and forever young.”

Friends of the California Condors Wild and Free works in collaboration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge Complex, the California Condor Recovery Program and other recovery program partners. For more information, visit their website.