PRO: The Tejon agreement is a true conservation victory

 

Anyone reading about the Tejon Ranch -- California’s largest contiguous private property -- has probably heard about the three controversial development projects: Tejon Industrial Park, the Tejon Mountain Village and the Centennial Planned Community.

But have you heard about the Tejon Golf and Hunting Resort, or maybe the Whitewolf Village and Shopping Center? People haven’t heard about them because they’re not going to be built, and thanks to a sweeping conservation agreement between several environmental groups and the Tejon Ranch Co., they never will be.

At stake are hundreds of thousands of acres in Kern and Los Angeles counties, filled with oaks, white fir, Joshua trees and grasslands -- all of it native habitat for the California condor and many other rare species.

For a time, our best hope to save this land was to do what we conservationists always do: Battle it out in the courts and in the media, knowing full well that while we might win some battles, we would also lose others. However, even if we were successful in tying up the developments in court, the ranch could simply have responded by selling off its nearly 1,000 legal parcels. The resulting checkerboard landscape of development and open space would do little to help birds, wildlife and habitat.

Fortunately, all parties were willing to sit down and reason out a solution that made more sense for the future of this remarkable landscape.

The agreement, negotiated by Audubon California, the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Endangered Habitats League and the Planning and Conservation League, secures permanent protection of 375 square miles -- eight times the size of San Francisco and about 90 percent of the Tejon Ranch. The settlement also provides funding for an independent science-driven conservancy to restore the land and ensure public access. Thirty-seven miles of the Pacific Crest Trail will be re-routed through the property, and the creation of a major state park will allow the public to enjoy this incredible place.

In exchange, we have agreed not to oppose three developments on the remaining 10 percent of the ranch. These developments -- none of which have been approved yet by regulatory agencies -- will undergo full public review and be subject to all environmental protection laws.

Of course, no development at all would have been preferable. But one has only to look around Kern and Los Angeles counties and see what is happening on privately held land to understand that this outcome is just wishful thinking. To commit ourselves to years of fighting for a pipe dream would have been irresponsible. It would have meant gambling with California’s most biologically diverse property, particularly in light of the opportunity this agreement presents right now.

Since the agreement was announced, concerns have been raised about whether this agreement protects the California condor. Ever since I saw my first California condor, just west of the Tejon Ranch in August 1983, I have understood the magic of this bird. Speaking on behalf of Audubon, an organization that has been out front since the 1930s in the battle to save the condor, I can say that this endangered species was our foremost concern.

We reviewed condor flight data and consulted with eminent condor scientists, including Pete Bloom, Lloyd Kiff and Bob Risebrough. Bloom is a hero in the fight to save the condor, and the stories of him lying in holes to catch and protect the last wild condors in the ‘80s are still told and re-told with a sense of awe. Without people like him, there likely would be no condors left.

Bloom, Kiff and Risebrough had total freedom to analyze the plans and agree or disagree, and to do so publicly. They made a number of strong recommendations, and each was incorporated into the plan. The agreement provides for the protection of the overwhelming majority of the ranch’s vast backcountry condor habitat and also gives long-term funding for condor conservation.

We recognize that scientists often disagree. Nothing in our agreement precludes such critics or any other members of the public from participating in the review process conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or any of the many other review processes related to the area’s developments. Those review processes will have the ultimate say as to whether the proposal meets the condor’s needs.

If the Fish and Wildlife Service believes that additional steps are warranted, it will require them, and in so doing will build on the clear and certain conservation outcomes achieved by the Tejon Ranch Agreement.

Graham Chisholm is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He is director of conservation for Audubon California and lives in Berkeley, California.

Anonymous
Jun 25, 2008 11:25 AM

There is a rumor floating around that a number -- if not all -- of the biologists who signed off on this deal received money from the Tejon Ranch Company as a "consulting fee" for participating in the creation of the 200-page agreement that allows for massive development on the Tejon (that agreement is available on-line here: http://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/96869/000119312508138009/dex1028.htm).

It is also being suggested that those from the conservation community who sit on the new Tejon Ranch Conservancy board will be paid a hefty wage. (The board/conservancy is being funded to the tune of $800,000 per year by the Tejon.) If we could get the likes of Chisholm, Bloom, and Kiff to address that question, it would ease a lot of our minds. But some are even saying there are "nondisclosure" agreements that forbade them from discussing those details.

Unfortunately, this smells way too much like a payoff/sellout. Most of the ranch that was "saved" from development (except that acreage that is supposed to be purchased by some public agency at some future exorbitant cost) is mostly undevelopable land. Meanwhile, some of the best wildlife habitat on the place is being sacrificed under the mistaken theory that we'd lose more if we didn't barter away the heart and soul of the Tejon now.

I've hunted the Tejon for nearly 40 years, and no one in the conservation community has even mentioned the fact that the Tejon Mountain Village is situated right in the heart of one of California's last, biggest, and healthiest California mule deer populations in the state. Centennial is in the heart of the Tejon's reintroduced pronghorn population -- the only pronghorn in the Antelope Valley, named after this species.

As a long-time outdoor writer in Southern California, I've been told by a lot of Tejon Ranch hunters that my column on this issue (available here: http://www.outdoornewsservice.com/odpkg/news/News_05-07-08.html) and my companion blog (here: http://www.outdoornewsservice.com/blogs/peckingaway/current.html) sum up how a lot of us feel about the Tejon, current public land management, and conservancies.

I'm gloomy about how this whole thing is playing out. I've heard from people that the ranch should become a state park, but anyone who is familiar with how our state parks are underfunded and mismanaged shudders at this idea. A national park would exclude traditional hunting and sound grazing (as a fire management tool and historic activity). Conservancies in California are mostly mismanaged, with public access highly restricted and management programs usually without public or peer scrutiny. The Tejon is a national treasure and I fear we don't have anyone, in the public or private sector, with the competency to run it.

As a best-case scenario, I've made the pitch to have the Tejon -- all of the Tejon -- (and adjoining Windwolves Preserve) turned into a huge National Wildlife Refuge which would allow historic activities to continue, give the public access, and still allow for intensive management for condors, wetlands (in the San Joaquin Valley foothills), tule elk, and other wildlife. I've been the lone voice in the oak grasslands advocating that position.

Best Regards,

Jim Matthews

Outdoor News Service

San Bernardino, CA

odwriter@charter.net

 

Anonymous
Jun 27, 2008 12:38 PM

Dear Jim

Here are the quick responses to your comment.

"There is a rumor floating around that a number -- if not all -- of the biologists who signed off on this deal received money from the Tejon Ranch Company as a "consulting fee" for participating in the creation of the 200-page agreement that allows for massive development on the Tejon (that agreement is available on-line here: http://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/96869/000119312508138009/dex1028.htm)." 

Not sure which scientist you mean.  The scientists didn't create the Tejon Ranch Agreement.  Perhaps you mean scientists who wrote and reviewed a condor technical paper.  It is not unusual to be paid for their work as scientists.  What is important is that they have not, contrary to rumor, signed agreements that prevent them from speaking out or participating in the ultimate regulatory review of the developments.

"It is also being suggested that those from the conservation community who sit on the new Tejon Ranch Conservancy board will be paid a hefty wage. (The board/conservancy is being funded to the tune of $800,000 per year by the Tejon.) If we could get the likes of Chisholm, Bloom, and Kiff to address that question, it would ease a lot of our minds. But some are even saying there are "nondisclosure" agreements that forbade them from discussing those details."

No board member of the Tejon Ranch Conservancy is being paid by the Tejon Ranch Conservancy.  I will not be compensated for my service on the board.  As Audubon staff I will continue to work for Audubon.  Incidentally, Audubon is not being compensated by the Tejon Ranch Company or the Tejon Ranch Conservancy.  I am not bound by a nondisclosure agreement.  Bloom and Kiff have made clear they are also free to speak.

"Unfortunately, this smells way too much like a payoff/sellout. Most of the ranch that was "saved" from development (except that acreage that is supposed to be purchased by some public agency at some future exorbitant cost) is mostly undevelopable land. Meanwhile, some of the best wildlife habitat on the place is being sacrificed under the mistaken theory that we'd lose more if we didn't barter away the heart and soul of the Tejon now."

178,000 acres will be donated as conservation easements or dedicated as open space and 62,000 acre of future development areas will be acquired.  Those areas, as well as some of the areas in the donated conservation easement areas are developable, some in a longer timeframe.  The appraisal will be conducted by the State of California -- not Tejon Ranch or the environmental groups.  

The Tejon Ranch Conservancy was formed to address the concerns that Jim has about the lack of resources to manage public lands.  The Conservancy has a dedicated funding stream that will allow it to manage the 240,000 acres of protected land, provide public access, and ensure that these lands continue to support the tremendous diversity of species and habitats that are found on the ranch.

 Thanks for your comments.  Graham

 

jodip
jodip
Jun 27, 2008 12:50 PM

Dear commenters

Thanks for chiming into the discussion and contributing your thoughts. But please remember that we won't post comments containing personal attacks, profanity, or vulgarity. Other than that, all ideas and points of view are welcome!

Regards,

Jodi Peterson

HCN Associate Editor

Anonymous
Jun 27, 2008 12:52 PM


Center for Biological Diversity is also opposed to this deal, and if they think it's a sellout, so do I.  Sounds like many eyes need to be looking very carefully at this.  Don't assume that something is good just because several green groups sign on. 



I appreciate Mr. Matthews' comments, but am adamantly opposed to allowing hunting in conservancies, parks, or refuges.  Wildlife belongs to all of us, not just the small minority of people who kill for sport.


Anonymous
Jun 30, 2008 11:05 AM




Mr. Chisolm, 



This sure sounds like you signed a Confidentiality Agreement.  It is from the Tejon  Ranch Conservation and Land Use Agreement, signed by you for Audubon California. From page 82:







sec. 15.22 Confidentiality...  the Resource Organizations [that's Audubon, Sierra Club and NRDC etc.] and the Conservancy [you're on the board] shall keep and shall cause their respective agents, consultants and employees to keep confidential all tests, reports, documents, analyses, and opinions obtained by the Resource Organizations or the Conservancy with respect to any portion of the Conservation Easement Area or the Ranch… Neither the contents nor the results of any Confidential Information shall be disclosed by the Resource Organizations or the Conservancy or their respective agents, consultants and employees without TRC’s prior written approval, which TRC may grant or withhold at TRC’s sole and absolute discretion, unless and until the Resource Organizations, and/or the Conservancy are legally compelled to make such disclosure. 




The full  TEJON RANCH CONSERVATION AND LAND USE AGREEMENT can be found here:  http://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/96869/000119312508138009/dex1028.htm












 














Anonymous
Jul 07, 2008 01:34 PM

The Conservancy’s “funding stream” only flows if the properties sell, and re-sell.  There is also a provision in the Agreement that Tejon can sell the lands with conservation easements on them, which stay in Tejon’s ownership.  Is there a guarantee of continued public access if, say, homeowners are offered the chance to buy Tejon’s  lands in their viewscape which are under conservation easement?  Shedding these lands might help Tejon with property taxes down the line, and be appealing to homeowners.

 

Helen Snyder, Portal AZ