Historic Tejon Ranch Conservation Agreement Celebrates One-Year Anniversary

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Most people have never seen a California condor. Last week, when I arrived at a meeting of the Tejon Ranch Conservancy at a cabin in the heart of the Tejon Ranch north of Los Angeles, a number of these majestic birds were sitting nearby in a tree, occasionally taking wing on the updraft that surrounded the cabin. It was an astonishing sight.

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the announcement of the historic Tejon Ranch Conservation and Land Use Agreement, one of the largest land conservation deals in California history. NRDC and four other prominent environmental groups negotiated the agreement with the landowner, Tejon Ranch Company, and its partners to provide for permanent protection of 240,000 acres -- over 90% -- of the largest contiguous, private landholding in California. Tejon Ranch is the critical biological connection between four important ecosystems -- the Sierra Nevada, the San Joaquin Valley, the Mojave Desert, and the mountains of southern and coastal California -- and this agreement protects hundreds of thousands of acres of those critical lands and guarantees public access for generations to come. As I said a year ago, this is perhaps the greatest victory for conservation in California that many of us will see in our lifetimes.

The agreement also created and funded the independent, non-profit Tejon Ranch Conservancy, which has taken many important steps forward in the last year. First, the Conservancy's Board -- on which I sit as one of the founding members -- hired a terrific executive director, Thomas Maloney, who spent the last eight years with The Nature Conservancy, most recently serving as interim ecoregional director for the West Coast region. Under the direction of Dr. Michael White of the Conservation Biology Institute, and in collaboration with the University of California at Santa Barbara's Bren School of Environmental Science and Management, the Conservancy has also kicked off its science program by initiating pilot research projects to determine species baselines on the Ranch. Public access programs have also begun to ensure that the public has increasing opportunities to use and enjoy the Ranch. Finally, the Conservancy has held extensive discussions with various state and federal agencies regarding the acquisition of lands identified under the agreement for that purpose and about the future use of the conserved lands, including a potential 50,000-acre state park and a potential University of California reserve for scientific research.

We've accomplished a lot in the last year, but much remains to be done. NRDC will continue working to implement this groundbreaking agreement to ensure that its conservation purpose is fully realized.