CENTER FOR BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY
PROPOSED TEJON RANCH DEVELOPMENT WOULD SEVERELY THREATEN CALIFORNIA CONDOR RECOVERY
CBD and Sierra Club Announce Opposition to Tejon Mountain Village Project
Contact: John Buse, Center for Biological Diversity, (312) 237-1443
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE November 4, 2005
The Center for Biological Diversity (“CBD”) today joined the Sierra Club in submitting comments on the proposed Tejon Mountain Village development, an upscale resort and sprawl development project that would seriously threaten the recovery of southern California’s reintroduced condor population and destroy an important ecological corridor. The Tejon Ranch Company has proposed converting over 28,000 acres of oak studded mesas and canyons on the west side of Tejon Ranch, wildlands essential to the survival and recovery of the endangered California condor, into an exclusive residential resort and golf course development.
“The public has made a tremendous effort to recover the condor and has invested over $35 million in the condor reintroduction program,” said John Buse of CBD. “The Mountain Village development would eliminate much of the condor critical habitat on Tejon Ranch. It makes no sense to build a luxury resort in the heart of essential condor habitat or to allow piecemeal development without a master plan for Tejon Ranch.”
“The development of Tejon Mountain Village would destroy vital areas of critical condor habitat and severely threaten the recovery of this majestic species,” stated Peter Galvin, Conservation Director of CBD. “Tejon Ranch should be the state’s highest priority for protection of private wildlands, since it is a critical wildlife corridor and contains globally important oak woodlands, rare amphibians, and plants found nowhere else in the world.”
The Sierra Club has also submitted extensive comments that would help ensure that the impacts of this proposed project on the near-to-pristine natural environment are thoroughly examined. “Tejon Ranch Corporation has proposed putting at risk one of the rarest animals on earth – the California condor – in order to build a luxury resort and houses that will be second and third homes for the super-rich,” said Mary Ann Lockhart, Conservation Director of the Sierra Club’s Condor Group. “The proposed luxury development is bad planning by a corporation that is seeking a permit from the federal government to harm or even kill condors. We will work tirelessly to protect the condor and stop this remarkable example of bad planning.”
The development is proposed for the western side of Tejon Ranch near Lebec. Tejon Ranch lies in the Tehachapi Mountains at the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley, 40 miles south of Bakersfield in southwestern Kern County. Tejon Ranch wants to build 3,450 residential units, 750 hotel units, 4 golf courses and 160,000 square feet of commercial space on 28,250 acres around Castac Lake, an area of the ranch important for the condor. The formal “scoping process” for the project ended today, with public and regulatory agency comments regarding the scope of issues to be analyzed in an upcoming Environmental Impact Report by the Kern County Planning Department.
The Tejon Mountain Village development is one of several proposed for the 270,000 acre Tejon Ranch, a biological diversity hotspot and a haven for rare and endemic species, ancient oak trees, condors, rare native vegetation communities, and intact watersheds and streams. Although no comprehensive land use plan has ever been prepared, Tejon Ranch recently proposed the 11,600 acre Centennial Development, at 23,000 homes the largest single development ever considered in California, and the 1,100 acre Tejon Industrial Complex East. The ranch is surrounded by protected public and private land and is a vital wildlife corridor connecting the southern Sierra Nevada to the Transverse Ranges of the coastal mountains.
Tejon Ranch, including much of the project area, has been designated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) as critical habitat for the condor (habitat essential for the survival and recovery of the species). The USFWS’s Condor Recovery Plan identified protecting key roosting and feeding areas on Tejon Ranch as one of the most important recovery actions for the species. The ranch contains important condor flight pathways and the only significant feeding habitat close to the Sespe-Piru condor nesting area. The project area is important habitat for the Tejon deer herd, a forage source for the wild condor population. Tejon Ranch has proposed setting aside a “condor preserve” on the project site, of questionable value to condors given the level of development and human disturbance, and in no way adequate mitigation for the development of essential condor habitat.
Tejon Ranch Company is currently seeking a blanket “incidental take” permit from the USFWS which would allow it to harm, harass, and even kill endangered condors during construction and operation of proposed major developments. The USFWS has never granted such a permit for the condor. In June, Tejon Ranch announced a sham conservation proposal to sell 100,000 acres of the ranch to the state as a conservation area, but the best wildlife habitat is excluded and the land in the proposal has no development value. The company has filed suit in federal court to try to eliminate protections for the California condor and limit the condor reintroduction program. In February of 2003 a hunter illegally shot and killed a reintroduced condor on Tejon Ranch during a hunt sponsored by the ranch.
California condors were so close to extinction in the mid-1980s that the last wild birds were captured and a captive-breeding program was initiated by the USFWS. Releases of captive-reared condors began in the mid-1990s, and there are currently over 125 reintroduced condors in the wild. The condor still hovers on the brink of extinction and reintroduced condors face a variety of threats, including habitat loss, oil and gas drilling activities, lead poisoning, shooting, and collisions with power lines.