Tejon Ranch Agreement Conserves California's Wild Heritage

TEJON RANCH, California, May 9, 2008 (ENS) – The publicly traded Tejon Ranch Co. and five environmental groups have agreed to permanent conservation of 90 percent of the giant ranch, the parties announced Thursday.

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.

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.)

On hand for the announcement, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger marveled at the size of the endeavor. “The Tejon Ranch is a vast California treasure and just to tell you how big this is – because people sometimes don’t understand what 270,000 acres really is – well, it’s seven times the size of San Francisco – with an astonishing diversity and extraordinary beauty,” the governor said.

“Our vision has always been to preserve California’s legacy and provide for California’s future, and this agreement does exactly that,” said Robert Stine, president and chief executive of Tejon Ranch Co. “The agreement we’ve reached is good for conservation, good for California and good for the company and its shareholders.”

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.”

Public access to the conserved lands is a key component of the agreement, which provides an easement of up to 10,000 acres for the realignment of 37 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail through the ranch lands.

“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.”

Spring wildflowers on the Tejon Ranch.
(Photo courtesy Tejon Ranch Co.)

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.

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.”

A California condor at the Tejon
Ranch (Photo courtesy Tejon Ranch Co.)

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for conservation of California’s wildlife heritage on a staggering geographic scale,” he said. “Tejon Ranch is the critical biological connection between the Sierra Nevada and the mountains of Southern and coastal California.”

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.

Chisholm will be convening chairman of the new conservancy, which will have 12 board members – four from the Tejon Ranch Co., four from the environmental groups, and four independents.

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

“This ranch could have become contested terrain and I’m really pleased to say that this agreement really shows a different way,” Chisholm said.

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.”

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.”

View This Story On Eco–mmunity Map.