From condors to kit foxes, as many as 20 state- and federally listed species — and many others found nowhere else on Earth — make their homes on California’s Tejon Ranch. Covering more than 270,000 contiguous acres from the Transverse Ranges foothills across the Antelope Valley, over the southern Sierra mountains and back down onto the San Joaquin Valley floor, the ranch is located at the convergence of five geomorphic provinces and four floristic regions — the only location of its kind in California. It houses federally designated California condor critical habitat, hosts 23 known types of plant communities, and serves as an “oak laboratory” for more than one-third of all California oak species. Unfortunately, this astoundingly diverse landscape could be the future site of widespread sprawl development.
The ranch’s owner, Tejon Ranch Company, has already built an energy plant and an industrial warehouse complex, and is now planning three additional developments that would seriously compromise the land’s ecological integrity. Tejon Mountain Village would convert 28,500 pristine acres of crucial condor habitat in Kern County into a sprawling resort. The Centennial Project, proposed for north Los Angeles County, would pave more than 11,000 acres of grasslands, woodlands, scrublands and wildflower fields, replacing them with 23,000 homes and 14 million square feet of commercial development. Finally, the Tejon East Industrial Complex would destroy 1,100 acres that comprise a key wildlife linkage along the San Joaquin Valley floor, including habitat for the threatened San Joaquin kit fox. Tejon Ranch has released a draft “environmental impact report” for Tejon Mountain Village.
In a show of environmental concern, Tejon Ranch Company proposed in June 2005 to sell 100,000 acres of its property to California as conservation areas. But the sale of these basically unbuildable areas would in effect simply provide the company with public funds to develop other biologically significant parts of the ranch, while limiting access to the conservation areas. The company also has long resisted condor recovery efforts, suing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to block condor reintroduction near the ranch and to have any re-introduced birds listed as a nonessential, experimental population without full federal protection.
The company’s lawsuit thankfully didn’t result in an experimental listing for the Tejon condor population, but its settlement did block release sites near the ranch and promise the company assistance in obtaining an “incidental take” permit that would allow it to harm, harass, and even kill endangered condors during the construction and operation of proposed developments. Though this permit hasn’t yet been granted, in February 2003 a hunter illegally shot and killed AC8, one of the last wild-born condors, on Tejon Ranch property during a Tejon Ranch Company-sponsored pig hunt. The Center requested investigation of the company’s role in the crime, but regulatory agencies took no action.
The Center’s Save Tejon Ranch campaign actively opposes any such incidental take permit and will continue to advocate for protection of Tejon Ranch condors. After we and our allies filed a lawsuit against the state of California to require the use of lead-free ammunition in condor range, the Tejon Ranch Company announced plans to ban the use of lead ammunition on its property starting in the 2007 hunting season. The Center has also resisted all three new developments proposed for the ranch, submitting scoping comments in opposition to the Centennial Development and Tejon Mountain Village and winning a substantial victory in 2003 when Kern County’s decision to approve the Tejon East Industrial complex was vacated in court as a result of a Center lawsuit.
To achieve long-term conservation of Tejon Ranch’s intact wildlands, healthy watersheds, and unpolluted streams — and to highlight these qualities as the important public resource they are — the Center has led a coalition of conservation groups, representing almost 2 million citizens and more than 40 eminent natural-resource scientists, in a campaign to preserve 250,000 acres of Tejon as a state or national park. We’re determined to preserve this unique hub of biodiversity and stop it from becoming another of California’s urban sprawl victims.
Unfortunately, in May 2008, some conservation groups came to an agreement with the Tejon Ranch Company that may allow massive development on the Ranch to move forward, even though it would destroy precious natural areas — including federally designated condor critical habitat. Although the agreement does possess some positive aspects, such as the possible set-aside of some land for a state park, it would destroy many of the most biologically important areas on the Ranch and endangers the health of the area as a whole. In 2009, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a draft plan to allow the Tejon Ranch Company to harm and harass condors in their last bastion of wild habitat — paving the way for the Tejon Mountain Village development, which eight of the country’s most prominent California condor experts have denounced as detrimental to condor recovery. The same year, the Center called for the withdrawal of Tejon Ranch’s request for a permit to build that development without subjecting its plans to an adequate environmental review.
When Kern County approved Tejon Mountain Village despite the harm it would do to species, cultural sites, human health, and the climate, we sued with allies to stop the development in November 2009. A year later, a judge put an end to the first round of our litigation — but we filed notice of our intent to appeal that decision in 2011. We won’t give up on saving the Tejon Ranch land most critical to the California condor’s survival.