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DISPUTE DELAYS RELEASE OF CONDORS

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A dispute with private landowners in Utah and Arizona has delayed the release of California condors in the Grand Canyon region until the end of the year, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service official said Tuesday.

The endangered condor, with its 10-foot wingspan, is the largest flying bird in North America. Captive breeding efforts have increased the population to more than 100 from only 21 in 1982. A few birds have been introduced into the wild in California.The Fish and Wildlife Service had sought to expand the program to the Vermilion Cliffs area 50 miles north of the Grand Canyon in April with the release of nine birds. But a lawsuit and drought conditions pushed that back to July.

Now officials are shooting for November or December, Jeff Hum-phrey, outreach coordinator for the program, said in a telephone interview from Arizona Tuesday.

Several southern Utah counties had expressed concern that release of the endangered birds would affect how private landowners could use their property.

"The bulk of the counties are now on board," Humphrey said. Utah's San Juan County is still concerned about the plan, he said.

Under the plan, the birds are to be deemed "experimental, non-essential," thereby heading off tight control over land use that might be triggered with the introduction of an endangered species.

"The Fish and Wildlife Service is not going to move the birds until the counties we're working with are comfortable with having condors there," Humphrey said. "We are still moving forward and intent on making this work for the birds and the people in area."

A group called Coalition of Resources and Economies, whose members include six Utah and two Arizona counties, plans a meeting July 17. Group Vice President Jim Matson expects the coalition will agree to accept the birds.

Meantime, the nine birds initially to be moved are instead headed to Los Padres National Forest locations or to Big Sur to be re-introduced to the wild as soon as possible.

Six other birds born this spring will be moved to Utah when they are ready to leave the nest, Humphrey said.