For Immediate Release, July 8, 2009
Contact: Jeff Miller, Center for Biological Diversity, (510) 499-9185
Condor Experts Condemn Proposed Tejon Ranch Development
Proposed "Conservation" Plan Will Hurt Endangered California Condors
LOS ANGELES— A group of esteemed condor biologists, including former leaders and members of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s condor research team and federal condor recovery team, has weighed in on the controversial plan to develop Tejon Ranch, broadly condemning Tejon’s development proposal and its associated proposed Habitat Conservation Plan.
The scientists, including some of the most important names in the history of the conservation of the California condor, called for the rejection of Tejon’s request for a permit to harm critically endangered condors.
“This remarkable group of experts who have devoted years of their lives to helping bringing the condor back from the brink of extinction have written a damning report on Tejon’s massive sprawl development plans,” said Jeff Miller, conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The consensus among independent biologists is that Tejon’s supposed conservation plan fails to protect condors and their proposed developments would significantly harm the recovery of the species.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is currently considering Tejon’s application for a Tehachapi Upland Multi-Species Habitat Conservation Plan, which would include a “take” permit for 27 endangered, threatened, or rare species on Tejon Ranch. The permits are essential to Tejon’s plans to develop Tejon Mountain Village, the controversial luxury-home subdivision planned within the heart of designated critical habitat for the California condor.
“The condor is being brought back literally from the brink of extinction through extreme intervention and at a cost of millions of dollars in public and private funds,” said Miller. “Given the importance of Tejon Ranch for the recovery of condors, it is inappropriate and legally indefensible that condors would be considered for any kind of “take” under this permit. The Conservation Plan is fatally flawed and should be withdrawn.”
The centerpiece of Tejon’s condor “Conservation Plan” is a supposed mitigation for development impacts of establishing artificial food stations to provide carcasses for scavenging condors. Replacing natural foraging grounds with artificial feeding stations would effectively relegate condors to outdoor zoo species, which the experts describe as “neither necessary nor desirable.” The condor biologists reject this mitigation as inconsistent with the recovery of condors, since feeding stations adversely affect condor foraging behavior and movements and result in detrimental behaviors such as microtrash ingestion and human habituation.
The scientists note that the developments would: harm condors by significantly reducing the amount of high-quality foraging habitat; end hunting in current condor foraging areas, which would reduce natural food supplies; inhibit condor use of the area through effects of urbanization; and possibly alter condor movement patterns. The scientists conclude that the proposed developments would “appreciably reduce the likelihood of recovery of the California condor and adversely modify critical habitat,” and represent a “major threat to recovery of the species.”
Tejon Ranch, and specifically the proposed Tejon Mountain Village area, is important condor critical habitat because of (1) its abundant food supply of carrion; (2) strong and reliable winds essential for efficient condor foraging movement; (3) healthy populations of other scavengers that help condors locate food; (4) the geographic position of the ranch at a central crossroads for condor movements between other important condor use areas; (5) the area’s long history of isolation from detrimental human influences associated with urbanization; and (6) the local availability of suitable overnight roosting locations.
Despite condor movement in the past decade being strongly influenced by the operation of feeding stations away from Tejon Ranch near condor release areas, many of the released birds have rediscovered and reoccupied Tejon. The Tejon Mountain Village area has been one of the most heavily used portions of condor critical habitat in recent years, with the Southern California population heavily using Tejon in 2008 and 2009 for foraging. However, Tejon’s flawed Conservation Plan excludes much of this important critical habitat for condors from consideration for protection in order to satisfy its development desires.
The Center for Biological Diversity also submitted comments yesterday on the inadequacy of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Conservation Plan and its violations of the Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Protection Act with respect to impacts on condors.
In 1997, as the Fish and Wildlife Service began releasing captive-reared California condors to the wild, Tejon Ranch sued the Service in an attempt to halt the release of California condors near Tejon Ranch, curtail the condor recovery program, and relegate the condors to a special status without protection under the Endangered Species Act. Although the lawsuit was arguably meritless, it was minimally defended by the government, which instead settled the case for what is believed to be a sweetheart deal that has resulted in the current plan and take permit application.
The scientists sending the letter are:
David A. Clendenen: condor field biologist, Condor Research Center (1982-1994); lead biologist for USFWS in charge of condor field studies (1994-1997); Condor Recovery Team member (1995-2000).
Janet A. Hamber: condor biologist at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History (1976-present); cooperator with USFWS in condor nesting and telemetry studies (1980-present); archivist and manager of Condor Information System (1988-present).
Dr. Allen Mee: post-doctoral fellow for the Zoological Society of San Diego (2001-2006); researcher on condor breeding in California and Arizona; convener of condor symposium at AOU 2005 conference, Santa Barbara; senior editor of California Condors in the 21st Century (2007); currently manager of White-tailed Sea Eagle Reintroduction Program in Ireland.
Dr. Vicky J. Meretsky: field biologist in charge of telemetry interpretations, Condor Research Center (1984-1986); senior author of Range, Use and Movements of California Condors (1992); senior author of Demography of the California Condor (2000); associate professor of environmental science, adjunct appointment to the Department of Biology and affiliated faculty at the Maurer School of Law, Indiana University (1997-present).
Anthony Prieto: co-founder of hunter organization Project Gutpile (1999-present).
Fred C. Sibley: former field leader of condor research program for USFWS (1966-1969); author of Effects of the Sespe Creek Project on the California Condor (1969).
Dr. Noel F.R. Snyder: former field leader of condor research program for USFWS (1980-1986); former member of Condor Recovery Team (1980-1986); senior author of The California Condor, a saga of natural history and conservation (2000); senior author of Introduction to the California Condor (2005); recipient of William Brewster Award of American Ornithologists’ Union for research and conservation work with the California Condor and Puerto Rican Parrot, 1989.
William D. Toone: Condor Recovery Team member (1986-1992); Curator of Birds, Zoological Society of San Diego (1983-1993); Director of Applied Conservation, Zoological Society of San Diego (1993-2003); Founding trustee and Executive Director of the ECOLIFE foundation (2003-present).
For more information on protecting Tejon Ranch see www.savetejonranch.org.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a nonprofit conservation organization with 220,000 members and online activists dedicated to protecting endangered species and wild places. www.biologicaldiversity.org