Tejon Ranch, Fish & Wildlife Service Draft Conservation Plan
TurnTo23.com | January 28, 2009
FORT TEJON -- Tejon Ranch and the Fish and Wildlife Service have unveiled a plan to protect dozens of animal and plant species on a large swath of the company's property.
The plan aims to protect 27 animal and plant species within 142,000 acres that make up the Tehachapi Uplands in Tejon Ranch, while mitigating the effects of proposed development on the land.
"It's a federal process we're going through, one that's lengthy and time consuming and expensive," Barry Zoeller of the Tejon Ranch Company said.
"But in the end, we believe that species and habitat will benefit, and it will also serve the interests of Tejon Ranch."
The plan has been ten years in the making, resulting in a draft environmental impact statement is now out for public comment, beating out a federal moratorium placed by the Obama administration on publications in the works during prior administrations.
Such action is common when a new president takes office, according to Lois Grunwald of the Fish & Wildlife Service.
The FWS drafted four alternatives: a no-action plan; a plan that takes measures just to protect condors; a general plan buildout; and a multi-species habitat conservation plan, the preferred alternative, Grunwald said.
The MSHCP calls for conservation of 94 percent of condor foraging area, putting utility wires underground, and eliminating lead ammo for hunting in the ranch. The plan also calls for a condor study area and hiring a full-time biologist to educate future residents about land stewardship.
They determined the pan that we proposed, the multi-species habitat conservation plan will do the best job in protecting habitat, protecting species, and advancing their recovery," Zoeller said.
The plan only impacts the proposed development of Tejon Mountain Village, which would add 3,500 homes near Lebec, since it is within the uplands.
The Tejon Industrial Complex, which is along Interstate 5 on the valley floor, and the proposed master-planned Centennial community, which would add 23,000 homes near Gorman, are not impacted by the study.
Opposition To The Plan
Last May, Tejon Ranch signed an agreement with five major environmental groups to conserve 90 percent of the ranch, which would include a state park. In exchange, the groups agreed to not bring litigation against Tejon Ranch in its efforts to develop the remaining land.
The Center for Biological Diversity was at the negotiating table during those discussions, but did not agree to the terms because of its opposition to any development within Tejon Ranch, according to Adam Keats of the center.
The group argues the Tehachapi Uplands are too critical for condors and other species to withstand any development.
"As these birds are slowly making their way back from the brink of extinction, we have this plan that would allow development within their critical habitat," Ileene Anderson, a biologist for the center, said.
The center says Tejon Ranch is a refuge for five other species that are fully protected by the state, and any human interaction with the various species would be detrimental to their survival.
"They're building in their critical habitat and they're potentially altering the birds' behavior," Anderson said.
But Tejon Ranch countered, saying they have studied condor landing patterns on their property.
"What I think the CBD says is a gross exaggeration," Zoeller said.
"Of all the places in southern California that the condor has touched down, it's touched down one percent of the time in Tejon Ranch."
Anderson says litigation is not out of the question if it means it will stop the proposed developments on Tejon Ranch.
The public has until April 22 to make public comment on the statement. Based on the input, the Fish & Wildlife Service will then draft a final impact study. After another round of input, the FWS will make a final determination expected in early 2010 on whether the plan will be approved, Grunwald said.
To read the draft environmental impact study, you can visit http://www.fws.gov/ventura/