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Locals clean up to save condors

Environmentalists volunteer to keep junk out of wilderness area

Posted: January 19, 2009 9:22 p.m.
Updated: January 20, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Katherine Squires, left, and her sister Caroline, both teachers in Santa Clarita Valley, collect micro-trash on Magic Mountain, where more than 13,700 acres of land are slated to be preserved under the wilderness bill.

Katherine Squires picked a shard of green glass from the dirt and showed it to her sister, Caroline.

"This is the type of thing (condors) like to eat for some reason," she said, placing the dime-sized shard in the trash bag her sister held open.

The Squires sisters joined 49 Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and other volunteers who spent Martin Luther King Day picking up "micro-trash" from two sites on Magic Mountain, where more than 13,700 acres are slated to be protected by the federal wilderness bill.

"When they do autopsies on some of these condors they find these things in their stomachs," said Katherine Squires, the local Conservation Chair for the Sierra Club.

Squires, a kindergarten teacher at Rio Vista Elementary School, convinced her sister to don work gloves, grab some garbage bags and head out to the Bear Divide Picnic Area off of Sand Canyon Road.

"I said, ‘Of course I'll come out and do that.' I've been involved environmentally in Santa Clarita for many years now," said Caroline Squires, who teaches fifth grade at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Newhall.

The tiny trash items - bits of glass, bottle caps and the pull tabs of soda cans - are often consumed by California Condors.

"The condors eat it and it kills them," said Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel, organizer of Monday's trash-collecting exercise.

Every month, Erskine-Hellrigel, president of the Community Hiking Club, picks up trash from the area in an effort to protect the dozen condors that have made Magic Mountain their summer home.

She organized Monday's event in response to President-elect Barack Obama's call for Americans to participate in a National Day of Service.

"There are 35 condors in the wild.

Santa Clarita is blessed to have 12 of them on Magic Mountain," she said, explaining that condors spot shiny objects on the ground that glisten like bone fragments.

"They're like kids drawn to glitter," she said about the Magic Mountain condors each identified with visible numbered tags.

Condors are the largest birds in North America with a wing span of between 10 and 12 feet. They feed on the dead carcasses of animals.

In May, on the day Congressman Howard "Buck" McKeon unveiled his wilderness bill, he stopped abruptly in the middle of his press conference on Magic Mountain when someone pointed to a half dozen condors gliding high over him.

"McKeon just about fainted," Erskine-Hellrigel said. "At that point, he said ‘This bill has to be passed.'"

At least 13,709 acres of land identified as Magic Mountain are included in the Eastern Sierra and Northern San Gabriel Wild Heritage Act that passed the Senate last week and is on its way to the House for consideration.

"It's like a gift for Santa Clarita," Erskine-Hellrigel said about the Act pending before the House. "It couldn't be better."

In her notice to members of her own club and to the Sierra Club, she explained: "We will be doing another micro-trash clean up on Bear Divide and Magic Mountain, readying the area for the return of the condors in the spring."

It's the constant return of teenagers to the area who perpetuate the area's long-standing reputation as a party spot, commonly known as the Nike Base, that has environmentalists concerned.

"They frequent that area every Friday and Saturday night," she said. "Last month I picked up 80 pounds of glass and 40 condoms."

On Monday, the scene from a dusty turnout overlooking the Bear Divide Picnic Area wasn't much better with collected trash items including beer bottles, liquor bottles, condom wrappers and condoms, necklaces, jewelry, fast food wrappers, cardboard boxes and one discarded couch.


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