For Immediate Release, Thursday, October 29, 2009
Contact: Adam Keats, (415) 632-5304
Land Speculator Michael Winer Wins 2009 Rubber Dodo Award
His Wall St. Firm Pushing Largest Developments in California and Florida
Imperiling Dozens of Endangered Species, Including Condors on Tejon Ranch
LOS ANGELES— The Center for Biological Diversity announced today that the winner of its third annual Rubber Dodo Award is Michael Winer, portfolio manager for the giant real-estate investment firm Third Avenue Management, LLC (“TAREX”). The Rubber Dodo is awarded each year to the person who has done the most to drive endangered species extinct. The 2007 winner was Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne; the 2008 winner was Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.
Winer is deserving of the 2009 award for his leadership of TAREX, the largest stockholder in companies developing the largest pieces of private land remaining in Southern California and Florida. These regions are also home to some the highest numbers of endangered species in North America. In California, TAREX is pushing the Tejon Ranch Company to pave over thousands of acres of federally designated California condor habitat. In Florida, TAREX is pushing the St. Joe Company to flood tens of thousands of acres of the Florida Panhandle with high-end developments.
“Under Winer’s money-obsessed leadership, TAREX has become the poster child for unsustainable, endangered-species-killing sprawl,” said Adam Keats, director of the Center’s Urban Wildlands Program. “He specializes in finding massive, remote estates far from urban centers and turning them into a sea of condos, malls, golf courses, and resorts. There is good reason that even Wall Street commonly calls TAREX a ‘real-estate vulture’.”
In California, Winer has been a driving force behind the Tejon Ranch Company’s bid to build two new cities 50 miles north of Los Angeles. Tejon is the largest parcel of private land in California and the last remaining unprotected wilderness-quality land in the region. The Tejon development has been likened to dropping a city the size of Boulder, Colorado into the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
“Mr. Winer, more than almost any other single individual, is responsible for the reckless speculative investment strategies that have led to the current development pressure facing Tejon Ranch,” said Keats. “If Tejon Mountain Village gets built, our children will very likely never be able to witness the majesty of the California condor soaring over its ancient core habitat. Meanwhile, we’ll all be stuck holding the bill for the project’s smog, traffic, water use, and wildfires, while Mr. Winer and his investors make off with the profits.”
In Florida, Winer has targeted the relatively remote Florida Panhandle, making TAREX the largest investor in the St. Joe Company, which owns 800,000 acres there. In order to leapfrog over existing development areas, St. Joe has pushed the Federal Aviation Administration to build a new airport in the middle of its private lands.
Ignoring the impact to endangered species, Winer and TAREX boast that the airport is “going to have a significant impact on the development of northwest Florida, not to mention the area around the airport that is all owned by St. Joe… northwest Florida is ideally suited to benefit from that: it’s less expensive, less crowded and there’s not a whole lot more to be developed in any other coastal region of Florida.”
Background on Tejon Ranch
From condors to kit foxes, as many as 20 state- and federally listed species — and many others found nowhere else on Earth — make their homes on California’s Tejon Ranch. Covering more than 270,000 contiguous acres from the Transverse Ranges foothills across the Antelope Valley, over the southern Sierra mountains and back down onto the San Joaquin Valley floor, the ranch is located at the convergence of five geomorphic provinces and four floristic regions — the only location of its kind in California. It houses federally designated California condor critical habitat, hosts 23 known types of plant communities, and serves as an “oak laboratory” for more than one-third of all California oak species. Unfortunately, this astoundingly diverse landscape could be the future site of widespread sprawl development.
The ranch’s owner, Tejon Ranch Company, has already built an energy plant and an industrial warehouse complex, and is now planning three additional developments that would seriously compromise the land’s ecological integrity. Tejon Mountain Village would convert 28,500 pristine acres of crucial condor habitat in Kern County into a sprawling resort. The Centennial Project, proposed for north Los Angeles County, would pave more than 11,000 acres of grasslands, woodlands, scrublands, and wildflower fields, replacing them with 23,000 homes and 14 million square feet of commercial development. Finally, the Tejon East Industrial Complex would destroy 1,100 acres that comprise a key wildlife linkage along the San Joaquin Valley floor, including habitat for the threatened San Joaquin kit fox.
Tejon Ranch has a long history of hostility to efforts to bring the endangered California condor back from extinction. While in the 1980s the last remaining wild condors were captured on Tejon Ranch, a decade later the company sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to block condor reintroduction near the ranch and to have any reintroduced birds listed as a nonessential, experimental population without full federal protection.
But in a show of environmental concern, in 2008 Tejon Ranch Company agreed, in exchange for securing several environmental groups’ non-opposition to its development plans, to grant conservation easements to about 160,000 of its 270,000 total acres. Even though almost all of this conservation area is un-developable, being too steep, rugged, or remote, the agreement has given a “green sheen” to Tejon’s noxious development plans. Meanwhile, the fate of the condor in its historical wild habitat hangs in the balance of Tejon’s development plans.
The Center has proposed that, rather than becoming yet another monument to the continuation of a speculative real estate bubble, Tejon Ranch should be preserved as a new national or state park and preserve, protecting a bounty of native plant and animal communities, cultural and historic features, and scenic vistas. See www.savetejonranch.org.
Background on the Dodo
In 1598, Dutch sailors landing on the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius discovered a flightless, three-foot-tall, extraordinarily friendly bird. Its original scientific name was Didus ineptus. (Contemporary scientists use the less defamatory Raphus cucullatus.) To the rest of the world, it’s the dodo – the most famous extinct species on Earth. It evolved over millions of years with no natural predators and eventually lost the ability to fly, becoming a land-based consumer of fruits, nuts, and berries. Having never known predators, it showed no fear of humans or the menagerie of animals accompanying them to Mauritius.
Its trusting nature led to its rapid extinction. By 1681, the dodo was extinct, having been hunted and outcompeted by humans, dogs, cats, rats, macaques, and pigs. Humans logged its forest cover and pigs uprooted and ate much of the understory vegetation.
The origin of the name dodo is unclear. It likely came from the Dutch word dodoor, meaning “sluggard,” the Portuguese word doudo, meaning “fool” or “crazy,” or the Dutch word dodaars meaning “plump-arse” (that nation’s name for the little grebe).
The dodo’s reputation as a foolish, ungainly bird derives in part from its friendly naiveté and the very plump captives that were taken on tour across Europe. The animal’s reputation was cemented with the 1865 publication of Lewis Carroll’s Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Based on skeleton reconstructions and the discovery of early drawings, scientists now believe that the dodo was a much sleeker animal than commonly portrayed. The rotund European exhibitions were accidentally produced by overfeeding captive birds.