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Vast Tejon Ranch agreement protects vital condor habitat in California.

12/05/2008 01:12:47
May 2008. The vast 270,000 acre Tejon Ranch and five environmental groups have agreed to permanent conservation of 90 percent of the giant ranch. In exchange, the Tejon Ranch is guaranteed the right to proceed with its existing development plans in three locations along the western edge of the 270,000 acre ranch without continued opposition by the environmental organizations.

One of the largest conservation and land use deals in California history, the agreement will protect 240,000 acres, or 375 square miles, of the historic ranch, the largest contiguous private landholding in the state.

Spring wildflowers on the Tejon Ranch. (Photo courtesy Tejon Ranch Co.) Audubon California, the Endangered Habitats League, Natural Resources Defense Council, the Planning and Conservation League and the Sierra Club said the agreement was reached earlier this week after two years of scientific analysis of conservation values and negotiations with Tejon Ranch officials.

"Getting to today's agreement was difficult and both sides took considerable risks in staying at the table," said Bill Corcoran, senior regional representative for the Sierra Club. "It has been well worth it to protect the stunning beauty of Tejon Ranch and its critical role as the keystone of Southern California's natural legacy."

"In one day," said Corcoran, "a visitor can see fields of poppies in the Antelope Valley, travel through a dense Joshua tree forest, roam ridgetops of white fir and incense cedar, descend through unsurpassed oak woodlands and cross a vast plain with views to distant peaks at the western edge of the Central Valley. There is truly no place like this in California. Tejon Ranch is California as it was and in special places still is; wild and achingly beautiful."

Through a combination of dedicated conservation easements and designated project open space areas, Tejon Ranch Co. will permanently protect 178,000 acres. The agreement lays the groundwork for the public to purchase an additional 62,000 acres of the Tejon Ranch, resulting in a total of 240,000 acres of conserved land.

Tejon Ranch was assembled from four Mexican land grants and traces its roots back to 1843. It is the oldest working ranch in California. (Map courtesyTejon Ranch Co.) The partners to the agreement have already approached California leaders for assistance in securing federal, state and private funds needed to accomplish this goal.

"All of us consider this agreement on the future of Tejon Ranch one of the great conservation achievements in California history," said Joel Reynolds, senior attorney and director of the Southern California Program of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

"Tejon Ranch is the crossroads of biodiversity, a Garden of Eden unparalleled in California," Reynolds said. "We are preserving forever, in one piece, the junction between no less that four major California ecosystems, from the wildflower fields and native grasslands of the Mojave Desert and Antelope Valley, up to the ancient woodlands of giant oaks and pines in the rugged Tehachapi Mountains, which join the Coastal Range to the southern Sierra Nevada and sloping down again to the level grasslands of the San Joaquin Valley, the last remaining natural habitat around the southern rim of the valley."

Condor habitat

The ranch is inhabited by more than two dozen rare animals and plants and contains critical foraging habitat for the endangered California condor.

"The previous ban on lead ammunition, the pullback of development from four of the five principal foraging ridges and the protection of the vast expanse of the ranch's backcountry are important steps forward in the condor's recovery," said Graham Chisholm, director of conservation for Audubon California.

The 240,000 acres of conserved lands will be overseen by an independent nonprofit conservancy created and funded under the agreement to develop and implement a ranch-wide management plan in collaboration with the Tejon Ranch Company.

Mountainous terrain on the Tejon Ranch (Photo courtesy Tejon Ranch Co.) Mission statement

The mission of the conservancy, for which funding is guaranteed under the agreement, is "to preserve, enhance and restore the native biodiversity and ecosystem values of Tejon Ranch and the Tehachapi Range for the benefit of California's future generations."

"The agreement announced today permanently protects a unique California landscape and the viability of its natural resources," said Walt Reid, director of conservation and science for the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

"The Packard Foundation, through its partnership with the Resources Legacy Fund, is pleased to support the public agencies and parties in fulfilling this significant agreement by working to ensure that the Conservancy has the financial capacity for the start-up tools it needs to steward and protect this natural treasure."

New state park

The environmental organizations and Tejon Ranch Co. have agreed to work with the new conservancy and California State Parks Department toward creation of a state park within the conserved lands, potentially in the range of 49,000 acres, Reynolds said.

"Without this agreement, the individual parcels that now comprise the Tejon Ranch could ultimately be sold separately," said Gary Patton, general counsel for the Planning and Conservation League. "That would fragment the property, and its biological and natural resource values would be lost."

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