CON: A housing development that’s a tragedy for condors

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In recent weeks, several high-profile environmental organizations have been celebrating a deal they call “perhaps the greatest victory for conservation that many of us will see in our lifetime." If only this were true. Sadly, it is not; the deal in question represents a major setback for conservation.

The "deal" does result in permanent preservation of substantial amounts of open space on California’s Tejon Ranch, but it also involves the creation of a major housing development of thousands of dwellings in the heart of critical habitat for the endangered California condor.

If built, Tejon Mountain Village will pose a significant threat to the recovery of this highly revered species. That any environmental organization might agree to such consequences is alarming and raises troubling questions about how the agreement was reached.

Critical habitat is the highest level of federal protection given to areas that are indispensable for endangered species. It is designed to prevent significant degradation of these areas. Critical habitat for condors was established on the Tejon Ranch in 1976, because the lands in question were crucial for foraging and roosting.

After a close brush with extinction, the recovering condor population is once again using this critical habitat on Tejon, but it’s doubtful that full recovery of the species can be achieved in its historic range if significant degradation of the Tejon lands is allowed. This conclusion is not new: It has been stated in innumerable documents and official remarks of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Department of Fish and Game over the years.

Condors are sensitive to both direct and indirect threats from human activities. Historically the huge birds have avoided urban and suburban areas. A major housing development in the remote heart of one of their most important use areas is exactly the sort of degradation that critical habitat was designed to prevent. It simply should not be permitted under any circumstances.

Incredibly, private environmental organizations with no authority over -- and little experience in -- condor management issues have now endorsed a deal that would allow the residential development of condor critical habitat on Tejon. The Tejon deal was based on negotiations openly described as secret, from which virtually all experienced condor experts were excluded. Further, the deal’s negative impacts for condors have not yet been disclosed to the public. This is the worst sort of deal-making imaginable, particularly for an extremely rare species that has become a public trust.

Many of the lands sacrificed in this agreement are of irreplaceable value to condor conservation, while many of the lands slated for protection have not normally been used by condors and likely will never be of importance to condors. Furthermore, many of the protected lands would likely never be developed for housing because of steep terrain and other practical problems.

Unfortunately, in their eagerness to protect open space, a few well-meaning organizations have become parties to a major threat to the future of the condor. In effect, the condor is being asked to pay for protection of undeveloped lands of much less critical importance than the lands being sacrificed. This represents a huge net loss for conservation, not a benefit, and is no cause for celebration. Nothing in the announced agreement comes close to compensating for the losses involved.

Critical habitat designation has the force of law and deserves the respect and support of all, including landowners, governmental agencies and environmental organizations. If these plans are implemented, they would set a precedent for disregarding critical habitat protection for other endangered species, a precedent with far-reaching and potentially disastrous consequences.

Allowing Tejon Mountain Village to be built in critical habitat for condors represents a victory only for trophy-home development. As former participants in the condor-conservation program, we know of no evidence to support claims that these plans are generally endorsed by “condor experts.” Aside from a few individuals paid by Tejon, not one experienced condor biologist of our acquaintance believes that these plans are anything other than a major mistake. Our opposition here represents the consensus of a dozen condor biologists with long-term experience in the condor conservation program. We believe that preservation of critical habitat on the Tejon Ranch is essential for conservation of the condor, and that recovery of the species would be jeopardized by the proposed housing development.

The writers are contributors to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News ( Both men are biologists who studied condors for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and both were members of the government’s Condor Recovery team. Noel Snyder lives in Portal, Arizona, and David Clendenen lives in Maricopa, California.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at

Jun 25, 2008 11:38 AM

While I'm no expert on condors or Tejon Ranch I was interested enough in the broad claims and elements of the deal that I examined the materials available over the web.  The positive aspects of the proposed deal include a fair bit of hyperbole.  Unless I'm mistaken, a significant part of the ranch would be left in private hands for ranching and agriculture--the 90-10% figure doesn't seem to jibe.  It wasn't clear whether those ag areas would be protected with conservation easements or would simply become another phase of development down the road.

In addition, despite the reports suggesting that this is a gift to the public--that in exchange for development land would be preserved--digging further suggests that actually in exchange for development the public would be able to purchase a significant part of the ranch.  No doubt it would be a bargain sale including significant tax write-offs to bring the price down, but like Headwaters, the San Francisco Bay salt ponds and the Hearst Ranch, Tejon would soak up a huge amount of public resource bond funding.  Those were important and positive deals but they also represent a need for a public discussion of priorities.

Further, a purchase of habitat also seems to neglect that if a Habitat Conservation Plan/NCCP was enacted under the state and federal Endangered Species Acts, that preservation would be a required condition of development largely funded by the developers not a public purchase opportunity.

I have great respect for whoever's at the negotiating table but sometimes they need to be told to go back and make a better deal.  So far the media reports haven't convinced me that this is it.

Jun 27, 2008 12:38 PM

Dear Anonymous

The 90% of the Tejon Ranch that will be under conservation easement or dedicated open space is not available for future development.  There will be continued agricultural activity within that area, but no expansion.  The amount of row crops and orchards are fairly insignificant.  Cattle grazing will continue though the Tejon Ranch Conservancy will have the ability to influence and reduce the amount of grazing that is occurring on the ranch.  

178,000 acres are being donated (no tax write off, i.e. it will not qualify as a tax deduction. This reflects the need to mitigate for development projects on the remaining 10% of the ranch under a Habitat Conservation Plan.  62,000 acres of future development areas will be appraised by the State of California's Wildlife Conservation Board and there is a public process that helps the Wildlife Conservation Board determine whether this is a priority for the expenditure of state bond funding.  Unlike the Hearst Ranch transaction, there is significant public access at the heart of this agreement, including commitment to establish a state park, realignment of 37 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail onto the ranch, and public access on the conservation easement lands.

Thanks.  Graham Chisholm, Audubon California 




Jun 27, 2008 12:49 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!


Jodi Peterson

HCN Associate Editor 

Jun 27, 2008 03:02 PM

It’s unfortunate that articles like this continue to feed the fire and turn conservationists against each other.  There are a lot of broad and dramatic statements in this article that when looked at closely are simply unjustified.  The word hyperbole comes to mind.  I feel the need to clarify a few things.

First of all, FWS "critical habitat" boundaries are based on man-made arbitrary lines (State Plane coordinate system).  Definition of critical habitat is, "A geographical area that contains features essential for the conservation of [a species]...."  Key word here is "contains".  In other words, not everything within our arbitrary boundary is essential for survival of that species.  That's why condor experts were brought onto Tejon, so they could examine the specifics of the land and its importance to condors.  As well as examine actual use by condors.  (And by the way, one normally expects to get paid for their expertise.  I’m not sure why people insist on making this a negative issue when it comes to those who consulted on the project.)  You make it sound like ALL critical habitat is slated for development.  This is not even close to the truth.  The fact is, less than 4% of designated condor critical habitat falls within the footprint of Tejon’s development.  And it will ultimately be even less than that.  Furthermore, there are no facts that would lead anyone to call this the “heart” of condor use areas.

The 2 most common limiting factors for birds are nesting substrate and foraging habitat.  There has never been a single condor nest on Tejon Ranch in all of our historical knowledge, and therefore, unlikely will ever be.  Condor nesting habitat simply does not exist on Tejon Ranch.  Foraging habitat is our next legitimate concern.  But apparently, foraging habitat for condors is pretty flexible.  It’s already been proven that condors will feed exactly where we want them to feed.  For those unfamiliar, there are 2 feeding stations (one on Hopper and one on Bittercreek Refuges) where lead-free food is provided for condors.  And guess what, the birds are there like clockwork.  Of course, some of them wander and find supplemental food elsewhere, like perhaps on Tejon.  But if we want them to feed on the preserved Tejon lands, far away from development, well then, that's where they'll feed.  All we have to do is set the food out for them.  (Yes, this is an unnatural condor population, but that's what they decided to create when they started captive breeding them 20 years ago.)  Traditional roosting areas are another concern for condors.  However, this is also not an issue, as commonly used roost areas are not within, or even near, the development projects on Tejon Ranch.  

One more important, yet commonly overlooked, fact.  The biggest threat to condors has always been and will always be lead poisoning, ingested mainly from hunter-killed carcasses.  The wild condor population was reduced to a few individuals in the 1980s because of lead poisoning.  Not habitat loss, but lead poisoning.  They died of lead poisoning.  Lead poisoning.  Concentrating our efforts towards removing lead from the environment will go a much longer way than bickering over arbitrary lines in the sand and who was paid what for their services.   

I am not someone batting for the developer.  Or being “paid off” by Tejon.  I am an educated, experienced, and informed biologist who would love to see the condor prosper, as well as all of the critters protected under its umbrella.  I used to take the zero-development stance.  But through experience I've come to realize that there are other more realistic options that, against popular belief, may actually pose greater benefits than spending millions of dollars and countless years battling in court with no guaranteed positive outcome.  At least now we know the outcome (which can only get better after final reviews of the proposed development) and we can begin working full-speed ahead on the positive aspects of the new conservancy.     

Jun 30, 2008 11:04 AM

When will Peter H Bloom's  biological report be released to the public?  It is important that the public be able to examine the data and the science behind his conclusions that no harm will come to condors from building housing developments in critical habitat and whether he recommended any significant mitigation measures.

Jun 30, 2008 11:05 AM

Thanks Graham for addressing the comments/concerns made by others.  It would be helpful to hear comments from the "Con" side regarding the facts presented above.  Especially for those of us who are trying to understand both sides.  I'm not convinced that this is as serious a detriment to the condor as you make it out to be.  It's sounds like perhaps this land deal wasn't such a bad deal afterall.  And that had we not taken this deal then we would have ended up with a fragmented checkerboard ranch in the future. 

Jun 30, 2008 11:27 AM

The commenter above (Anonymous 13:53:16)  stats "It’s already been proven that condors will feed exactly where we want them to feed."

False!  whoever wrote that doesn't know much about the history of the condor program, or the problems that have plagued the release efforts in Califonia and Arizona, or even the news last month that 7 condors were found to have lead poisoning.  It was well documented  in 1985-1986 that condors will NOT feed exactly where the recovery program wants them to. It was the total collapse of this premise that led to all the condors being captured in the years that followed. And if condors' choice of feeding sites were under anyone's control today, there would have been zero cases of lead poisoning or micro-trash problems that have plagued the program since the releases began in the early 1990s.  

When people say they are receiving "a healthy amount" for consulting work it sounds like that amount is way above the  going rate. It raises the unfortunate spectre of a Faustian deal having been struck. 


Jun 30, 2008 02:19 PM

A healthy amount could simply mean enough to sustain health.  And that doesn't necessarily take much money.  There's no way you could know how much this is and therefore you should not be using this phrase to judge someones work or ethics.  Does this mean that anyone who gets paid for their expertise should be questioned and hounded?   What's the point in arguing over how much the scientists were paid?  Knowing the dedication of these scientists I bet they would have done it for free. 

By the way, The Center for Biological Diversity also pays scientists a "healthy amount" to consult for them.  Should we be questioning their results and motives?     

Jun 30, 2008 04:53 PM

<<A healthy amount could simply mean enough to sustain health >> 

 “A healthy amount” is a telling choice of words.  It immediately raises questions when one says that’s what one got for consulting work. It  implies satisfaction,  maybe a little pride, even some surprise: it’s out of the norm, beyond the usual, even for an experienced consultant.  When asked what you got paid, why not say  “the standard rate” or “the usual”?  

And because of that choice of words, it looks like the consultant, if Noaki Schwartz quoted him correctly in her AP article of 5.23.08 may have indeed been paid well for a non-PhD.  If Schwartz is correct and Noel Snyder, a PhD, was offered $3,000 for a day’s work to visit to the Tejon Ranch, then that amount is well above the norm too, enough so that Snyder apparently became suspicious, especially when he was told he had to sign a confidentiality statement. 

Biologists who are hired as consultants and paid the standard rate, or something above standard rate, or even “a healthy amount”,  in fact may well go on to do their best science and deliver results that are professional, unbiased and on the level.  But when that consultant is working not for the public good but for a corporation with billions of dollars riding on the consultant’s word, the rest of us should be wary, examine  all data, delve into the literature, demand a second or third opinion, file FOIA requests and lawsuits if necessary, since there is a profound conflict of interest here.  The point is, we can’t just take the word of the consultant.  And the consultant therefore should expect this scrutiny, not resent it.  

It’s like buying a used car:  you listen to the salesman, check tires and odometer  - and then run a CarFax report on it, and maybe ask a mechanic buddy to take a test drive with you.  The car salesman may be completely honest, but he’s got a basic conflict of interest.  You shouldn’t accept his word without seeing if there’s another side to the story. 

Tejon Ranch is fighting for its shareholders, and money is at stake. The Center for Biological Diversity is fighting for all of us. 

In the words of Jan de Leeuw “If you hire experts, and silence them, then they are no longer scientists and become consultants. There is nothing wrong with being a consultant, but consultants should not be confused with people engaged in scientific research and in the gathering of public knowledge. In addition, what Tejon is clearly doing is buying part of the knowledge base — which is then no longer available to the public, and which consequently limits the public’s inputs to the CEQA and HCP processes. That may be in the interest of the shareholders, but it is not in the interest of the people of California.”

 “A healthy amount” has nothing to do with “enough to sustain health”.  Nice try, but no points for that one.

Jun 30, 2008 06:30 PM

Someone asked when the Tejon condor plan will be released.  Unfortunately, not for a while.  The Condor Conservation and Management Plan was developed as part of the Tejon Mountain Village EIR and the Tehachapi Uplands Multi-Species Habitat Conservation Plan.  The EIR is subject to internal review by the County of Kern while the MSHCP is subject to internal review by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  Both of these agencies need to complete their reviews before the documents are released to the general public for review and comment.  It is anticipated that these agencies will not be releasing these documents to the public for at least four months.                      Pete Bloom
Jul 01, 2008 11:40 AM

This pretty much confirms Noaki Schart's headline: Business Silences Condor Experts in Land Deal. Pete wrote the condor report, and now it's out of his control; he's silenced about it until the end of the review period. 

Jul 01, 2008 11:47 AM

Why is it so difficult to believe that someone who is "consulting" still has their heart and motives in the right place.  I have done the same exact type of work/research under several different titles - field investigator, research assistant, biologist, graduate student, and consultant.  I have worked for non-profits, universities, government agencies, parks, and large private land owners wanting to develop.  I have volunteered my time, received a measly stipend, earned an honest amount, and maybe sometimes even a healthy amount.  No matter what my title was, who I was working for, or how much I was earning, I conducted my work with the same scientific rigor.  My heart was always on the side of the environment and the animals.  I've always strived to gather the best scientific data, conduct thorough background research, and present the results as objectively as possible.  Knowing something of the background of the scientists who consulted for Tejon, I'm confident that they did the same.  Just because you consult for a big company doesn't automatically make you a bad guy.  It doesn't automatically make you a sell-out.  Sometimes you hope that you can make a bigger difference working on the "inside".  And sometime you actually do.  The hearts and motives of the scientists on Tejon were in the right place - on the side of the condors and the side of the natural environment.  This IS possible.  And this IS a fact. Who are the opposition to claim otherwise. 

It's interesting how I can be doing the same exact work but will be looked at completely different depending on the title behind my name or how much I'm earning.  How quickly we are to judge people by titles and dollar signs. 

I commend both sides for being passionate in their beliefs.  But I'm afraid that some of this has turned more into personal attacks. Some of the individuals on both sides have a long history together.  And egos are rising once again.  Let us try to refrain from making personal attacks, whether here or in future articles and ongoing blogs.  Let's see who can remain on higher ground and not stoop to the level of taking unwarrented personal jabs.   

Jul 01, 2008 11:47 AM

The much-touted Conservancy is to be made up of 135,000 acres of development-hinged conservation easements, 10,000 acres of easements for the PCT, and 33,000 acres of “open space areas within the permitted project areas.”  Another 62,000 acres will be available for acquisition, at market rates.


The 135,000 acres of conservation easements will be conveyed to the Conservancy only if and when Tejon's development plans are approved.  Even if they are approved (which we hope to prevent), the Conservancy would only own the easements, while Tejon would still own and control the land.  Ranch activities, including mining, oil drilling, ranching, and agriculture uses, will still continue in the conservancy area.  These are not insignificant uses, as described in the conservation agreement.  Furthermore, funding for the Conservancy will be dependant on the future sale of homes.


Fully 33,000 acres of supposedly protected open space are actually within the proposed development footprints.  These are the parks, open spaces and greenbelts within the new cities that will be required for any development to be approved.  They are also what will make the developments economically feasible.  Not only are they not “preserved habitat,” but they are going to exist regardless of any conservation deal.


Most damaging to the calculus of the deal is that roughly 140,000 acres of the ranch are physically impossible to develop—being too steep, too deep, and too rugged.  Tejon’s CEO himself has admitted that more than half of the ranch is undevelopable for this reason.


All of this land will be available for Tejon to use as mitigation for its development activities.  Required mitigation for the building of Tejon Mountain Village, in the heart of California condor habitat, and Centennial, the huge sprawl city in LA County, is expected to be massive.  Our federal, state, and county governments are going to be requiring huge set-asides of Tejon-owned land in exchange for these developments.  Again, this would happen regardless of any conservation deal.


It’s no accident, then, that the conservation plan calls for the sale, at market rates, of 62,000 acres.  Of the 240,000 acres to be protected, these are the only lands that conceivably face any development pressure (as they are physically develop-able and likely not to be set aside as mitigation for Tejon’s other developments).


But just how likely is development on these 62,000 acres?  Not very.  They are located in the interior of the ranch, far from jobs and transportation corridors and would not be economically viable for many decades, if ever.  Their development depends on a lot of things going Tejon’s way: water being available; traffic congestion, air quality, and global warming no longer being problems; many, many years of compliant and willing elected officials; and continued public desire for more sprawl development.  None of these are likely occurrences and any are almost guaranteed to knock down the worst-case-scenario development scenarios.


Regarding the condor, we should all be committed to a viable wild population of condors freely occupying their historical range.  Replacing essential historical habitat with feeding stations runs counter to this goal.  While we all agree that the current number-one threat facing condors is lead poisoning, this threat is most properly and effectively addressed on a state or national level through legislation and rulemaking to eliminate lead bullets in our environment.  The recently-enacted ban by the California state government in condor habitat is a good example.  A Tejon Ranch ban on lead ammunition, while laudable, is only reflecting the state of the law; it is not mitigation for any future development.  The same is true for the feeding stations: as they fail to further the goal of a viable wild population (the writer above admits that it’s “unnatural”), they are not appropriate mitigation for the loss of historical habitat.


It is important, when assessing the impact of Tejon Mountain Village on the condor, to not assume that the worst-case-scenario of development will take place.  The participation of environmental groups and a few condor biologists in the plans for TMV might have made that project a little less bad for the condor than what Tejon originally proposed, but that does not mean that TMV or this conservation plan is going to benefit the condor. 


The fact is that the development of Tejon Mountain Village will harm the condor, regardless of the mitigation included in the conservation plan, by placing homes in historical, core, currently-occupied habitat.  The question is how much harm will be inflicted, and whether it’s worth it or not.


We believe that the harms of the current development plans (to the condor and beyond) far outweigh the benefits of the conservation plan (which are mostly illusory).  We therefore intend to keep fighting to ensure that these proposed developments do not get built and that Tejon gets the protection it deserves.


Adam Keats

Center for Biological Diversity

Jul 01, 2008 11:47 AM

Well you should be able to release the Tejon condor yourself...unless you're under a confidentiality agreement.

Jul 01, 2008 11:50 AM

I don't believe that anything has been done to "limit the public's input".  And if the scientists were so "silenced" as many keep insisting they were, then why were they openly speaking to the press? 

"A healthy amount" is not a "telling choice of words".  It was more like a bad choice of words.  He could have easily said "enough".  We have no idea what he meant by a healthy amount. 

I caution anyone from lumping these highly accredited scientists in with your average consultant.  They are research scientists through and through and deserve respect.  Granted there have been consultants who have given the profession a bad name.  But none of them had or have the background that the scientists who consulted for Tejon do.  These men are still scientists and conduct themselves accordingly.  They are not to be discredited just because they were paid for their expertise, as one would expect to be.  If anyone bothered to do their homework they would see that these are far from your run-of-the-mill biologists.  They ARE educated and DO engage in scientific research.  They have dedicated their lives to conservation and research.  They were instrumental in the condor recovery efforts in the 1980s.  They spend an incredible amount of their time volunteering their knowledge and efforts.  There's too much to list here.  I challenge people to do their homework before jumping on the bandwagon and start accusing. 

And for the record, there were many inaccuracies in Naoki's AP article.  It's obvious she wanted to create a stir.   


Jul 02, 2008 12:02 PM

Nobody is questioning Bloom, Kiff or Risebrough's honesty, integrity, dedication or ethics; this discussion is only about job qualification.  It is not a "personal attack" to point out that neither Bloom nor Kiff have a PhD, nor much of a publication record on condor policy development, managment, research priorities, demographics, ecology, behaviour, habitat use, or any other aspect of condor biology apart from some papers on contaminants, and reviews in the semi-popular literature. Dr. Risebrough's publication record is mainly on contaminants. A search of the Raptor Information System returns 10 hits for his name + condor, some of which are in peer-reviewed journals and others of which are various letters and other communications.

Again, any consultant on a controversial programme should expect scrutiny, and these three are experienced enough that they knew that before they started.

Jul 02, 2008 12:44 PM

We could take the term "unnatural" a little further. 

Something to think about.  In a sense, Tejon has already been providing "unnatural" (and unintentional) feeding stations on their property for years by having a hunting program.  This provides an unnatural amount of deer, pig, and elk carcasses and gut piles for scavengers, including condors.  So think about it.  Would condors be occurring on Tejon to the same degree if they were not provided with this extra amount of hunter-killed food?  Would you still be able to call TMV critical habitat?  This may be hard to answer definitively, but it's worth considering.  My guess would be they would not be using the ranch as much, especially since there are no nest sites on the property.  Perhaps a careful analysis of condor GPS data will reveal some patterns of land use. 

Thank you Adam for your explanation, it was very helpful and insightful.  But I still don't think that you can say it's a FACT that TMV will harm the condor.  It appears that the TMV development affects less than 3% of critical condor habitat.  Furthermore, the protection of a large amount of contiguous and diverse habitats seems to do a good job in protecting the DIVERSITY of the ranch.  And aren't you representing the Center for Biological DIVERSITY?  It has yet to be seen (in the condor conservation plan) whether the mitigation measures will outweigh the small amount of critical habitat being developed.  I believe this is possible.  I would love to see you stop all developments.  But I don't believe that is possible.   

A writer does not release drafts of his book to the public before it goes to print does he?  So why would Mr. Bloom release drafts of the condor plan?  Silly comment. 

Jul 02, 2008 01:56 PM

<< Would condors be occurring on Tejon to the same degree if they were not provided with this extra amount of hunter-killed food? >>


Before Tejon’s hunters arrived, there were carcasses left to rot during the leather-trade era in the 19th century, and before that there were carcasses left by grizzlies, wolves, and coyotes. Tejon’s been critical habitat before Critical Habitat was cool, to borrow the line from the country music song.


The presence of carcasses from whatever source, as long as they’re lead free, was and is and will continue to be an important resource for condors.  Tejon’s hunting program is important to condor recovery.


<<  But I still don't think that you can say it's a FACT that TMV will harm the condor. >> 


Non-scientists love hypothetical FACTS,  one of which appears to have just been created. The job of science is to predict, and the best guess is that the fancy houses planned for an area of very high, recent (last month) condor use will not do them any good because TMV is sited in an area of high condor use. Critical habitat designation contains areas of low value and high value; TMV is an area of very high value, as determined by the GPS transmitters that condors carry these days.


An important point: Tejon is attractive to condors for another reason besides just food. The physiography of TMV produces winds that condors like to use in moving around the range, regardless of the presence of food below. The windswept ridges where TMV is planned is exactly where condors like to hang out. Tejon connects the two halves of the historic range, and provides a bridge between them.


<< A writer does not release drafts of his book to the public before it goes to print does he?  So why would Mr. Bloom release drafts of the condor plan?  Silly comment. >>

 Sorry, silly analogy. Books manuscripts are often widely circulated to peers and other reviewers to obtain critical comment before final publication, especially non-fiction books in the field of science. Bloom was paid to write the report for another entity, a corporation that sees no value in tipping their hand any sooner than necessary in the NEPA procress.  He apparently signed  a mystery document that some would call a confidentiality agreement that prohibits him from circulating this report himself.
Jul 03, 2008 11:27 AM

2008-7-2 12:56:49.0:  I meant a writer's drafts don't get released to the PUBLIC.  Of course it goes through peer reviews and or agency reviews, as is Mr. Bloom's document.  I imagine that's why it will take some time before it's released to the public.  Scientific papers are not exactly circulated widely.  They are usually sent to a few select people who are most knowledgable on the subject.  But sometimes those people elect not to review the papers. 

You make some compelling arguements.  But I think I'll wait to see the final document, as well as maps depicting actual condor use of the ranch.  Your phrase "an area of high condor use" is very subjective.  And not very scientific.  A phrase like that would certainly not be allowed in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.  High condor use compared to what?  Los Angeles?  San Diego?  New York?  I bet TMV is actually low use if you compare it to Bittercreek and Hopper.  Again, I think we should all wait and see what the actual data show before making any serious statements.  Believe me, I don't like big fancy houses on ridgetops either, but I am of the scientific mindset in that I look at the facts and the numbers. 

And what about the fact that TMV overlaps less than 3% of designated critical condor habitat for this population?

Jul 07, 2008 11:41 AM

<< Of course it goes through peer reviews and or agency reviews, as is Mr. Bloom's document. >>


This document of Bloom’s was written under a contract FOR the agencies, and apparently got no peer review like scientific papers do, in which a paper is sent out to the people most likely to know about the topic, and disagree with the conclusions. Once it’s finished, the document’s owners want it kept under wraps as long as possible. It is not a research paper, it is a secret  industry position paper. There’s no comparing it to a scientific paper.


 <<Your phrase "an area of high condor use" is very subjective.  And not very scientific.  A phrase like that would certainly not be allowed in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.  High condor use compared to what?  Los Angeles?  San Diego?  New York?  I bet TMV is actually low use if you compare it to Bittercreek and Hopper>>


The data for condor use of the TMV are in the public domain; you can get them yourself.  And we’re not choosing which habitat to destroy, among the alternatives you presented. It’s a choice of do we, or don’t we.


<<Again, I think we should all wait and see what the actual data show before making any serious statements.  Believe me, I don't like big fancy houses on ridgetops either, but I am of the scientific mindset in that I look at the facts and the numbers. >>


If you are pro-development then your position makes sense. If you are a conservationist, a friend of the condor, if you care about endangered species, wildlife, and keeping open spaces open, you can write in today to the USFWS to state that you see no reason they should support this assault on the Critical Habitat of an endangered species, and thereby making it easier for all such assaults in the future. All a future developer will have to do is point to this dangerous precedent.


<<And what about the fact that TMV overlaps less than 3% of designated critical condor habitat for this population?>>


Do your homework. This was already answered.  The ridges that TMV will claim are central and core, not peripheral. Any is too much, for reasons already well and clearly stated here and elsewhere.


The promise of 62,000 acres to be set aside is shaky. The 267-page Agreement says that if the Conservancy can’t secure development rights , the land could ultimately be developed. The ownership of the land remains with Tejon – it’s just the development rights that are for sale. Tejon is going to be in debt for years, and the shareholders are pretty unhappy with the giveaway. There could be pressure from them in the future to reject the appraisals and retain the development rights – and who knows what else?


Jim Matthews has a great idea: make Tejon and Wind Wolves into one big National Wildlife Refuge. The state of Florida has just announced it’s buying out US Sugar for three times the value of Tejon. And Nature Conservancy and Trust for Public lands have just announced a similar buy-out of private lands in Montana, for close to the value of Tejon Ranch, which at the present time (close of market today, July 3) is $600,000,000 (# shares outstanding  X today’s closing share price), relatively medium-sized potatoes.  This Tejon sellout is not the only way to go – and it has brought the added tragedy of having lured three venerable conservation organizations into signing on and promising not to fight this in court for the 20-30 years it takes to do the construction, thereby angering their members.  More than a few former members may be sending their conservation dollars to the Center for Biological Diversity in the future, I imagine.  Some already have, to judge by the turmoil elsewhere online.

Jul 09, 2008 10:06 AM

There seems to be a serious misconception happening here.  Those groups and individuals who support the land agreement with Tejon are NOT pro-development.  They are not arguing FOR Tejon’s development.  They are conservationists.   They are friends of ALL species, not just the condor.  They are still defenders and protectors of the wild.  That’s why they worked so hard to preserve 90% of the Ranch (that’s an unheard of number in sprawling southern California).  They fought for, and won, the preservation of a large contiguous landscape of diverse habitats.  They are saving millions of dollars and dozens of years in litigation.  A huge chunk of land has been preserved and funds will be provided to manage and restore this land.  Why is this a bad thing?   


The opportunity to purchase the entire Ranch was there.  But nobody stepped up to the plate.  Nobody succeeded in securing the funds – not CBD, not TNC, not the state, nobody.  So should we have sat back and hoped and prayed for someone to purchase it while it got whittled away by development?  Or should we have secured 90% of it today?


Jul 09, 2008 07:14 PM

The plan to "save" Tejon is a house of cards.  Read the 267 pages of the Agreement SEC filing.  The 62,000 acres reverts to Tejon to develop if the Conservancy can't raise the money to purchase the rights to develop it -- AND the ranch can still subdivide and sell off parcels once cons. easments on them.

The real tragedy, and mystery, is how did these high profile groups ever get convinced that this was the only way to go?  How hard did  anyone try to get another buyer? There are only 440 shareholders of record! Tejon is a tiny company with a market cap of under 600 milliion! From what I see on the shareholders' discussion boards, they weren't interested in selling out -- they were all sure their ownership of TRC stock was going to pay them big returns one day and boy are they mad about the big give-away.



Jul 10, 2008 10:41 AM

There seems to be a lot of concern about upwards of 62,000 acres of the Tejon Ranch being up for grabs in the future if the Conservancy can't find buyers or raise the funds themselves to purchase the development rights for this acreage, and the impacts that this potential loss of habitat would have on condors.  However, I'm not sure the commenter voicing this concern has done HIS homework.  Looking more closely at the map of the Ranch and where these 62,000 acres are located, it doesn't appear to me that the bulk of this acreage, or even that much at all, is truly important condor foraging habitat.  Most of it is in the lowland area of the Ranch in the San Joaquin Valley and Antelope Valley and, looking at historical USFWS data, doesn't appear to have received much use at all by condors.  In addition, most of it is not within the area on Tejon designated as critical habitat (and much of what IS within the critical habitat boundary is arguably not "critical" to condors, especially given that the critical habitat boundary was delineated based on township and range boundaries).  While it would certainly be preferable to have these areas under preservation, if nothing else but to buffer those higher quality condor habitat areas being preserved, it doesn't appear to me that the loss of this habitat would rise to the level of being a huge hit on condors, as far as habitat goes.  More importantly, it appears that the vast majority (although admittedly not all) of habitat that truly is of value to condors on the Ranch will be preserved in perpetuity.  Seems like a pretty good deal to me.

Jul 10, 2008 10:42 AM

Since the one comment signed here by Pete Bloom appeared on 6/30, neither he nor Kiff nor Risebrough have not put forth any signed comments nor defended their plan to allow intrusion into condor critical habitat, so it looks like AP writer Noaki Schwartz accurately quoted the three of them and Tejon Ranch employee Barry Zoeller that  confidentiality agreements were involved, and working.

Jul 10, 2008 01:07 PM

 <Seems like a pretty good deal to me>  Not if what’s lost is what’s most important to condors.     The 62,000 acres are of significance only because the Agreement and the now-captive Resource Organizations [the big-name groups – Audubon California etc. etc.] keep holding them up as a great conservation victory.  That acreage is and has been identified as of not much use to condors OR development; it’s scenic window dressing. California etc. etc.] keep holding them up as a great conservation victory.  That acreage is and has been identified as of not much use to condors OR development; it’s scenic window dressing. Once again, for the slow to grasp or the quick to dodge: the Center for Biological Diversity’s map of condor locations shows the most green dots (=condor locations) right over the Tejon Mountain Village, the 5% of Critical Habitat that Audubon, Sierra Club and NRDC are willing to give up.  See the map titled CONDOR OCCURRENCE DATA AND CRITICAL HABITAT, here:   The Center is updating the map with the most recent data. Too bad the coat-and-tie ecocrats are so willing to sell out.  Good thing there are still a few conservation warriors out there like the CBD.  Pete Bloom, the biologist hired by Tejon to explain to the world why the development wasn't going to hurt condors, was recently interviewed by a LA Times reporter. He said something very revealing on the video:  But more importantly than the California Condor in my opinion is the biodiversity that’s protected within this region and just the sheer numbers of acres of habitat protected.” It's clear that he's made a trade-off, but it's an unacceptable one to those who will fight to the end for the condor. The video accompanies the 7/7/08 LA Times story titled Pact With Tejon Ranch Co. Splits Environmentalists,0,942707.story    

Jul 11, 2008 11:25 AM

Thank you for the link to CBD's map.  Very revealing indeed.  However, not revealing in the way you intended.  It does not support your arguement in the least.  For the slow to grasp or quick to dodge people out there, that mass of green dots (and yellow dots) actually fall over preserved land.  TMV occurs mostly in the lowest single square of "critical habitat" and outside of "critical habitat" squares.  Hardly what I would call "most important to condors".  And as your map shows, alot of what has been preserved apparently IS important to condors.  I would recomend that people do their homework before making strong statements.  The commenter above is correct in that the 62,000 acres that people are so concerned about has shown to be of little value to condors based on the actual occurrence of condors in these areas.  So it comes down to the fact that the most important condor areas on the ranch HAVE in fact been preserved.  Analyses of condor GPS data will also be revealing.  However, not in the way that some of you may be expecting.   

Jul 11, 2008 12:51 PM

Quick to Dodge:  Actually, the savetejonranch map is most revealing when you compare it to the actual map of the footprint of Tejon Mountain Village, found here:

Upon study, it will be noted that TMV's footprint looks a little like the silhouette, say of Pinocchio after telling a really big lie.. his extended nose points northeast, right along Gehgus Ridge and -- yess! right under all those green condor-sighting dots.  THAT's the part that is the problem. BIG condor use area.

Jul 14, 2008 12:40 PM

Oh come now, you're not actually trying to compare maps of different scales.   

Actually, Pinocchio's nose is NOT a problem.  If you did your homework, you would know that the nose has been cut back at least 3 miles, which pulls it right out of high condor use area.  There will be no development on Tunis Ridge or in Bear Trap Cyn, which make up most of Pinocchios nose.  The TMV footprint is actually just a sliver in his nose.   

BTW, has anyone mentioned lately the fact (yes, the quantitative FACT) that TMVs footprint occupies only 1% of condor critical habitat.  Seems an aweful lot of fuss over 1%. 

Jul 14, 2008 05:02 PM

Most computer users today can re-scale two side by side maps to the same size like I did; try it, it's easy.

Some 'one percents' are more important than others. Mexican Spotted Owl critical habitats contain a lot of ground they never use, never even fly over -- but within that acreage, there is a 1% that is truly critical to their continued existence there. It may be only a group of conifers up against a north-facing cliff, but that 1% is far more important than any other. Likewise for condor critical habitat on Tejon: ridges used for soaring are core critical habitat; the valleys below are not, even though the maps are not fine-grained enough to show it. A three-mile pullback is a joke, and clearly any such compromise was unacceptable to those real condor biologists who signed the letter protesting the Agreement. 

Those 11 biologists have had direct, intimate, hands-on responsibility for research and management decisions as well as policy making  for the condor, in contrast to the three pet "experts" Tejon bought itself. In no way were Tejon's three (with only one PhD among them) qualified to make a recommendation to compromise critical habitat. Being on the recovery team doesn't qualify one: the Team is an advisory body made up of people with diverse areas of expertise and over the years it's included geneticists , ethologists, agency personnnel and others who have never laid eyes on a condor.

 It would be interesting to hear National Audubon's take on Audubon California's signing onto this questionable deal.