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ACTION TIMELINE: A HISTORY OF CONDOR CONTROVERSY IN TEJON

April 19, 1987 – AC-9, the last wild condor in the United States, was captured. The total condor population hovered at 27.

January 14, 1992 – Two California condors were released in Sespe Condor Sanctuary, returning the species to the wild after a five-year hiatus. The total condor population (including captive birds) had increased to 64.

1996 – Reintroduced condors started to fly over the Tehachapi Mountains (and Tejon Ranch).

December 30, 1997 – Tejon Ranch filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, seeking to prevent the release of condors near ranch property and to classify all condors in California as an “experimental” population (attempting to deny the species’ claim to its historical habitat and to deny it the protections of the Endangered Species Act). The Service then abandoned its plans to use Wind Wolves Preserve, just west of Tejon Ranch, as a release site and entered into negotiations with Tejon Ranch over the remainder of claims.

December 17, 2002 – Court record was sealed in Tejon’s lawsuit against the Fish and Wildlife Service, in a motion not opposed by the agency. The court’s protective order also made secret all documents “in relation to” the upcoming settlement of the lawsuit, which would later be interpreted by the Service to make secret almost every document supplied to the agency by Tejon, including scientific reports and data, correspondence, and the terms of the settlement agreement itself.

February 2003 – AC-8, one of the few original wild condors, the last female condor to be captured, and an important “mother bird” for the released captive-reared condors, was shot and killed on Tejon Ranch by a hunter in a Tejon-sponsored pig hunt.

July 2005 – The Center filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act for all documents related to Tejon Ranch and California condors. The request was denied because of the protective order filed in Tejon’s lawsuit against Fish and Wildlife. The Center’s appeal of this denial was denied.

November 2005 – The first round of scoping comments was submitted regarding Tejon’s proposed Tejon Mountain Village development plan.

July 2006 – The Center and allies called for the permanent protection of Tejon Ranch in the form of a national or state park. Soon after, the groups entered into preliminary negotiations with Tejon Ranch to protect large portions of the property.

May 18, 2007 – More than 40 eminent natural-resource scientists signed a Declaration on the Conservation Significance of Tejon Ranch, supporting conserving 250,000 acres of Tejon for numerous reasons, including preserving its essential role as habitat for the California condor.

Summer 2007 – The Center ceased talks with the Tejon Ranch Company when it became apparent that the company would not back down on its plans to develop Tejon Mountain Village in the heart of California condor habitat. Other conservation groups remained at the table.

March 26, 2008 – The Fish and Wildlife Service announced scoping for a proposed habitat conservation plan and incidental take permit for condors, which would allow Tejon Ranch to harm, harass, and even kill condors. The plan is a major component of a leaked agreement that is part of Tejon’s secret deal with the Service.

April 30, 2008 – In response to the Service’s announcement regarding the proposed plan, the Center filed another Freedom of Information Act request for all documents related to Tejon and California condors.

May 8, 2008 – Tejon Ranch signed a “conservation agreement” with five conservation groups — not including the Center — that would allow three massive development projects on Tejon Ranch to go forward unopposed by the groups. One of the proposed projects, Tejon Mountain Village, would destroy designated critical habitat for the condor and what is considered the heart of the condor’s historical habitat.

May 25, 2008 – The Associated Press broke the story of Tejon’s silencing of their retained scientists through nondisclosure agreements.

May 29, 2008 – Our April 30 Freedom of Information Act request was denied, again with reference to the protective order.

June 7, 2008 – Eleven eminent condor scientists wrote to Governor Schwarzenegger and other public officials, voicing their opposition to the conservation agreement. Their letter is entitled “Tejon Ranch Conservation Agreement: A Tragedy for Condors.”

July 16, 2008 – The Center filed another Freedom of Information Act request, refining our previous requests to specify documents that would not be under seal by the protective order.

August 6, 2008 – Our July request was denied by the Fish and Wildlife Service, with the statement, “[W]e have not received an application for an Incidental Take Permit regarding the MSHCP and therefore, have no documents that are responsive to your request.”

September 22, 2008 – The Center filed its fourth Freedom of Information Act request seeking documents related to Tejon Ranch, condors and the proposed habitat conservation plan. After the Service denied that request on October 17, 2008, the Center appealed the denial.

January 23, 2009 – The Service posted the draft Tehachapi Uplands conservation plan and draft environmental impact statement on its website. The Environmental Protection Agency published a notice in the Federal Register, but no notice was published by the Service.

January 23, 2009 – The Center filed its fifth Freedom of Information Act request seeking documents related to Tejon Ranch and the proposed plan.

February 4, 2009 – The Fish and Wildlife Service published its notice of availability of the draft habitat conservation plan and environmental impact statement in the Federal Register, announcing that the deadline for comments had been extended to May 5, 2009.

April 8, 2009 – The Service denied the Center’s January 23 request, disclosing only four miscellaneous documents in addition to those found on the agency Web site for the draft plan. The Service’s denial followed two separate notices of delay that were due, according to the agency, to the voluminous records and complexity of the legal issues regarding the records. The Service’s denial again cited the protective order, stating that it “prohibits the disclosure of all documents and records created and produced in relation to and for the purposes of developing the recently submitted [plan]…”

April 15, 2009 – The Center formally appealed the denial of its latest request for documents concerning secret negotiations between Tejon Ranch and federal authorities over Tejon’s development plans.

June 11, 2009 – The Center filed a notice of intent to sue the Fish and Wildlife Service over the agency’s failure to disclose important documents related to the proposed habitat conservation plan for Tejon Mountain Village, planned for condor critical habitat.

July 8, 2009 – It was announced that eight prominent condor biologists submitted comments condemning the construction of Tejon Mountain Village in condor habitat, as well as the habitat conservation plan and draft environmental impact statement accompanying development plans.

August 3, 2009 – In response to the Center’s June threat to sue, the Tejon Ranch Company announced it would seek to lift the protective order that kept important condor documents secret. Unfortunately for the condor but conveniently for the company, the announcement came after the public comment period for Tejon Mountain Village had ended.

November 12, 2009 – The Center and allies filed suit against Kern County for approving Tejon Mountain Village despite its detrimental implications for species habitat, ancient cultural sites, local air quality and the global climate.

November 2010 – A judge nixed our lawsuit to stop the Tejon Mountain Village development, saying it didn’t violate state environmental laws despite the detrimental effect it would have on the California condor and other species. Grounds for appeal of the ruling remained.

February 9, 2011 – The Center and a coalition of endangered species advocates, American Indians, environmental justice advocates and local residents filed notice of an appeal of the 2010 decision allowing the project to move forward.

Photo © Andrew Harvey