for Biological Diversity is working to preserve Tejon Ranch, one of
southern California's greatest ecological treasures, from urban sprawl.
A Magnificent Landscape
Tejon Ranch is a magnificent landscape that encompasses over 270,000 acres at the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley, from the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, over the Tehachapi Mountains, and into the Antelope Valley. Tejon Ranch, the largest continuous parcel of privately owned property in California, is one of the state’s most valuable natural areas, boasting world class scenery, extensive roadless areas, and important wildlife habitat, all within 40 miles of the largest population center in the state. The ranch is a hotspot for biological diversity and a haven for rare and endemic species, ancient oak trees, condors, rare native plant communities, and intact watersheds and streams.
Tejon Ranch harbors the best of the biological diversity of the California Floristic Province, a remarkable co-joining of ecotones at the crossroads of five geomorphic provinces and four floristic regions. Multiple eco-regions converge here, including the Northern Great Basin, the Transverse and Coast Ranges, the West Mojave and Sonoran deserts, the Tehachapis, the Sierra Nevada, and the Great Central Valley. The region is botanically exciting and complex, with substrate-specific rare plants and many localized plant populations, including potentially un-described species such as a new onion found on pebble-based soils. Twenty-three different plant communities can be found here, as well as over one-third of the oak species in California and some of the largest individual oaks in the state. The region is rich in herptofauna: there may be more undescribed salamanders in the southern Sierra Nevada than in tropical Guatemala.
Tejon Ranch is home to as many as 20 state and federally listed species, including the California condor (Gymnogyps californianus), California spotted owl ( Strix occidentalis occidentalis ) and San Joaquin kit fox (Vulpes macrotis mutica). Over 60 other rare species have been documented on the ranch, including many species or subspecies that occur nowhere else on Earth. Other federally or state listed species documented in the region include striped adobe lily (Fritillaria pluriflora), Bakersfield cactus (Opuntia basilaris var. treleasei), Mexican flannelbush (Fremontodendron mexicanum), blunt-nosed leopard lizard (Gambelia sila), and Mohave ground squirrel (Spermophilus mohavensis).
In August of 2003, Environment Now published Conservation Significance of Tejon Ranch, highlighting the significance of the ranch for conservation of the state’s natural diversity. The report concluded that the Ranch comprises a unique and diverse biological core area with high habitat integrity, intact, functioning watersheds, and significant roadless areas. The Ranch supports several habitat types that are rare and under-protected in southern California, including grasslands, fir forests, and valley and blue oak woodlands.
Map of Tejon Ranch with Photo Locations. Click on a red dot to see the photo from that location.
Map created by GreenInfo Network. Photos by Andrew Harvey, Visual Journeys. This work was funded by the California Wildlands Grass Roots Fund (Tides Foundation) and the aerial work was done with the help of LIGHTHAWK.
In December of 2003, Preserving Wild California and the Resources Legacy Fund Foundation published a Conservation Assessment of Tejon Ranch, describing and mapping selected conservation values for Tejon Ranch. The report highlighted four Tejon Ranch landscapes that should be preserved to encompass these conservation values:
- Lowland grasslands and oak savannas of the San Joaquin Valley
- Closed-canopy oak woodland, montane hardwood, and montane hardwood-conifer communities on the northwest slope of the Tehachapi Mountains
- Oak woodland, chaparral, and pinyon-juniper communities on the southeast slope of the Tehachapi Mountains
- Lowland Joshua tree woodland, grassland, and desert scrub communities of the Mojave Desert
A Missing Linkage...
Tejon Ranch is a core biological resource area—large enough and pristine enough to support such wide-ranging species as condors and mountain lions and sufficiently vast to accommodate large-scale ecological processes such as natural fire cycles. Conserving much of the ranch in its existing state is essential to maintaining these characteristics and values. Conservation of Tejon Ranch is essential for landscape and habitat connectivity and maintaining the integrity of other conservation areas in the region. The Los Padres National Forest, Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge, Wind Wolves Preserve, and Carrizo Plain provide large blocks of important habitat to the west, while the Sequoia National Forest and Bureau of Lands Management lands lie to the east. The missing linkage between these large blocks of wildlands is Tejon Ranch.
In September of 2003 the South Coast Wildlands Project published South Coast Missing Linkages Project: A Linkage Design for the Tehachapi Connection.
The Wildlands Project proposed 15 major landscape and habitat linkages to ensure a functioning wildland network for the South Coast Ecoregion, along with connections to neighboring eco-regions. The Tehachapi Connection was identified as the most important linkage, since it is the vital sole wildland connection between the Sierra Nevada, Transverse Ranges and Sierra Madre mountain systems.
Critical Habitat for the California Condor
Noel Snyder photo
California condors were so close to extinction in the mid-1980s that the last wild birds were captured and a captive-breeding program was initiated by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Releases of captive-reared condors began in the mid-1990s, and there are currently over 125 reintroduced condors in the wild. The condor still hovers on the brink of extinction and reintroduced condors face a variety of threats, including habitat loss, oil and gas drilling activities, lead poisoning, shooting, and collisions with power lines. Tejon Ranch land has long been at the core of the condor’s habitat and was one of the last places wild condors inhabited before all remaining birds were captured for the ambitious captive-breeding program. Today, reintroduced condors use the remote open spaces of Tejon Ranch as essential foraging and roosting areas.
Much of Tejon Ranch has been designated by the Fish and Wildlife Service as Critical Habitat for the condor (habitat essential for the survival and recovery of the species). The Service’s Condor Recovery Plan identified protecting key roosting and feeding areas on Tejon Ranch as one of the most important recovery actions for the species. The ranch contains important condor flight pathways and the only significant feeding habitat close to the Sespe-Piru condor nesting area. Tejon Ranch is also important habitat for the Tejon deer herd, a forage source for the wild condor population.
Tejon Ranch is owned by the publicly traded Tejon Ranch Company (TRC), which has plans for extensive commercial, residential, and industrial development of the ranch. TRC has already built the Pastoria Energy Plant and the 350-acre Tejon Industrial Complex West in the lower-elevation grasslands in Kern County. Although no comprehensive land use plan has ever been prepared, TRC recently unveiled plans for three additional developments that will severely compromise the ecological integrity of what is now a largely undeveloped and natural landscape:
- Tejon Mountain Village in Kern County, a 28,000-acre exclusive residential resort and golf course development on the western edge of the ranch in the heart of Critical Habitat for the California condor
- The 11,600-acre Centennial Project in Antelope Valley, Los Angeles County, at 23,000 homes the largest single development ever considered in California
- The 1,100-acre Tejon Industrial Complex East on the San Joaquin Valley floor
These significant urbanization projects would be an ecological disaster that would fragment and degrade this remarkable natural area and the surrounding region. These proposed developments led the California Wilderness Coalition in 2003 to name Tejon Ranch as one of California's Ten Most Threatend Wild Places.
Tejon Mountain Village
The Tejon Mountain Village development is proposed for the western side of Tejon Ranch near Lebec. The development would convert 28,500 acres of oak studded mesas and canyons on the west side of Tejon Ranch, wildlands essential to the survival and recovery of the endangered California condor, into a sprawling upscale resort. TRC wants to build 3,450 residential units, 750 hotel units, four golf courses and 160,000 square feet of commercial space in critically important habitat for the condor.
This development project would seriously threaten the recovery of southern California’s reintroduced condor population. The public has made a tremendous effort to recover the condor and has invested over $35 million in the condor reintroduction program. The Mountain Village development would affect much of the condor Critical Habitat on Tejon Ranch.
Read the November 2005 Center and Sierra Club press release announcing opposition to Tejon Mountain Village, and the Center scoping comments on the project, regarding issues to be analyzed in an upcoming Environmental Impact Report by the Kern County Planning Department.
The proposed Centennial Development along Highway 138 in North Los Angeles County would replace over 11,000 acres of grasslands, juniper woodlands, oak woodlands, chaparral, scrublands and wildflower fields with 23,000 homes and 14 million square feet of retail and commercial development. TRC proposed the Centennial development in cooperation with three of the largest and most notorious real estate development developers in the nation: Standard Pacific Homes, Pardee Construction Company, and Lewis Investment Company, LLC. Read the April 2004 press release and the Center and CRPE scoping comments on the Centennial Development.
Tejon Industrial Complex-East
The Tejon East Industrial Complex would destroy 1,100 acres of farmland and grasslands and lies within an important wildlife linkage along the San Joaquin Valley floor, including habitat for the threatened San Joaquin kit fox. At 15 million square feet, it would be one of the largest industrial developments in Kern County history and would greatly increase diesel truck traffic and air pollution in this already highly polluted air basin.
When Kern County approved the development in January of 2003, the Center—joined by the Center on Race, Poverty, and the Environment, the Sierra Club, and the Kern Audubon Society—went to court to challenge the project under the California Environmental Quality Act and other laws. In October 2003, a Kern County Superior Court judge vacated Kern County's decision to approve the sprawling Industrial Complex.
The Court determined that the County’s Environmental Impact Report for the Industrial Complex failed to adequately disclose and analyze the project’s air quality impacts on public health and the environment. This omission is particularly significant in the San Joaquin Air Basin, which is in severe non-attainment with federal and state air quality standards. In addition to striking down the County’s decision on the basis of its inadequate air quality analysis, the Court determined that the environmental analysis was deficient in its consideration of the project’s impacts to two special status species, the horned lizard and Swainson’s hawk. Read the October 2003 Center press release about the legal victory.
Sham Conservation Deal
In June 2005, Tejon Ranch Company (TRC) and Trust for Public Land announced a sham conservation proposal to sell a portion of the ranch to the state as a conservation area. However, the most important wildlife habitat is excluded from the conservation area and the land in the proposal has little or no development value. The 100,000 acres proposed for sale by TRC is mostly unbuildable land and is the same land the company is attempting to use for conservation credit for a Habitat Conservation Plan (see below). TRC wants a significant payment of public funds for this property, money that would allow the company to finance further development of the ranch, while seeking approval to develop other biologically critical areas. To add insult to injury, these lands would have no public access and TRC would allow continued for-profit hunting, promoting exposure of lead poisoning for condors.
It makes no sense to allow TRC to destroy the unique values of Tejon Ranch project-by-project or to allow such piecemeal development without a master plan for Tejon Ranch. Decisions over the fate of Tejon Ranch should be made in a public arena through a comprehensive regional planning process. The public has a right to know what TRC plans for the ranch. Purchase of Tejon Ranch lands should prioritize biologically important areas and should occur only if TRC agrees to preserve all biologically significant areas and participate in comprehensive conservation planning for the entire ranch before seeking additional development approvals.
TRC Opposition to Condor Recovery
The Tejon Ranch Company has an unfortunate history of opposing condor recovery efforts. TRC has actively opposed the reintroduction of native condors to Tejon Ranch, going so far as to file a lawsuit against the Fish and Wildlife Service that sought to block any reintroduction near the ranch, and to have condors listed as an experimental and non-essential population, thus denying them the full protections of the Endangered Species Act. Although the condor was not listed as experimental when the lawsuit was settled, release sites near Tejon Ranch were blocked and TRC was promised assistance in obtaining an Incidental Take Permit for harming condors. TRC is currently seeking a blanket “incidental take” permit from the Service which would allow it to harm, harass, and even kill endangered condors during construction and operation of its proposed major developments. The Service has never granted such a permit for the extremely imperiled condor and the Center is opposing issuance of such a permit.
In February of 2003 a hunter illegally shot and killed a reintroduced condor, AC-8, on Tejon Ranch during a TRC-sponsored pig hunt. The death of AC-8 was a terrible tragedy, since she was the second-to-last condor taken from the wild. Condor AC-8 played an important role in the recovery effort, hatching numerous chicks and providing critical guidance and wisdom to young captive-reared condors that are now in the wild. She was one of only nine condors with experience living in the wild, and her return to the wild was considered one of the great successes of the recovery program. The hunter who shot AC-8 was nominally fined. The Center requested that the USFWS and the California Attorney General investigate the role of TRC in the killing, but no action was taken against TRC.
Tejon State or National Park?
Because of its unique natural resources and its role as a critical wildlife corridor, Tejon Ranch should be the state’s highest priority for protection of private wildlands. Tejon Ranch is largely roadless and unfragmented by urbanization, something very rare in southern California. Its intact wildlands, healthy watersheds and unpolluted streams are an important public resource. In order to maintain the biological values of Tejon Ranch in the face of California’s rapid development and agricultural conversion, the Center is initiating a campaign to preserve the ranch as a State Park or a National Park for future generations to enjoy. In July, 2006 the Center led a large coalition of conservation organizations, representing close to two million citizens, in calling on state and federal officials to balance conservation and development by protecting Tejon Ranch as a new national or state park. Read the coalition letter and the press release.