Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, April 16, 2018

Contact:  Aruna Prabhala, (510) 844-7122,
Gordon Nipp, Sierra Club, (661) 872-2432,        

Lawsuit Confronts Kern County Over Broken Promise to Protect Imperiled Hawks, Important Farmland

Nearly $3 Million Set Aside for Conservation Instead Transferred to General Fund

BAKERSFIELD, Calif.— The Center for Biological Diversity and Sierra Club filed a lawsuit today challenging Kern County’s failure to protect key habitat for the Swainson’s hawk and set aside prime farmland, as well as the county’s decision to transfer to the general fund nearly $3 million that was supposed to be used for protecting the imperiled bird and agricultural land.

The lawsuit, filed in Kern County Superior Court, targets the county’s flawed plan to address a 2011 solar project’s negative effects on the imperiled bird and agricultural land.

“Kern County is blatantly misusing millions of dollars set aside to protect these imperiled birds,” said Ileene Anderson, a senior scientist for the Center for Biological Diversity. “The county also implemented hundreds of acres of easements on lands that aren’t suitable habitat for the Swainson’s hawk. This bogus mitigation does little to help hawks or preserve important agricultural land, despite the county’s clear obligation.”

Swainson’s hawks are medium-sized migratory raptors that spend the spring and summer in North America, where they often forage on farmland, preying on grasshoppers and other insects. The hawk was listed as a California threatened species in 1983 because of habitat loss and diminishing numbers.

In 2011 Kern County approved a large, industrial solar-power project in the Antelope Valley. The project covered about 2,700 acres of prime farmland that also provided valuable foraging habitat for an important Swainson’s hawk population in the area. The county imposed a mitigation measure that required the solar developer to secure an equivalent area to compensate for the loss of Swainson’s hawk habitat and farmland.

In 2012 the county assumed responsibility for this compensation and control over a $14.3 million fund for its implementation. Initially it attempted to absorb this entire amount into its general fund in exchange for placing conservation easements on county-owned properties of little or no value as Swainson’s hawk habitat, including landfills and a sewage treatment facility.

Facing objections from conservation groups, in March 2016 the county instead approved the purchase of agricultural easements on 2,700 acres for $11.4 million. This action does not satisfy the legally binding commitments the county assumed in 2012.

The lands subject to easements would remain in agricultural use for 30 years, but the easements do not limit rodenticide and pesticide use, or require any specific Swainson’s hawk conservation, management, or monitoring measures. The easements are distant from the Antelope Valley, where the mitigation was supposed to occur. The nearly $3 million balance remaining of the fund that had been set aside for Swainson’s hawk and farmland mitigation was absorbed in the county’s general fund.

“We are suing to enforce Kern County’s broken promise to make up for lost hawk habitat and agricultural land,” said Dr. Gordon Nipp of the Sierra Club. “The county can’t be allowed to pocket millions that should be used for real conservation when it hasn’t come close to meeting its legal obligations to protect the Swainson’s hawk.”

The groups are represented by the Law Office of Babak Naficy and the Center for Biological Diversity.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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