State Grant to Fund Protection of More than 62,000 Acres on Tejon Ranch

SACRAMENTO (November 18, 2010) -- In a move that ensures the lasting protection of some of California’s most ecologically important landscapes, the state of California, through its Wildlife Conservation Board, today approved a grant to purchase conservation easements on 62,000 acres of the biggest private landholding in California, the Tejon Ranch, located at the foot of the San Joaquin Valley. The $15.8 million grant will establish one of the largest conservation easements in California history.

“If the Tejon Ranch is the Holy Grail of conservation in California -- and it is -- the Wildlife Conservation Board is the people’s knight in shining armor,” said Joel Reynolds, Director of the Urban Program, Natural Resources Defense Council. “The board's purchase of conservation easements today is a giant leap forward on the road to protecting over 240,000 acres of California’s natural heartland.”

The action marks a key step in the implementation of the 2008 Tejon Ranch Conservation Agreement, in which five conservation organizations negotiated an accord with the Tejon Ranch Company to protect up to 240,000 acres of spectacular California wildlands on the 270,000-acre Ranch. Those groups included Audubon California, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Endangered Habitats League, and the Planning and Conservation League. The agreement created a three-year option to purchase conservation easements on the 62,000 acres acquired today.

“While the 2008 agreement was a landmark achievement for the conservation of these lands, the purchase of these easements really cements the victory,” said Graham Chisholm, chair of the Tejon Ranch Conservancy board of directors and executive director of Audubon California. “This grant secures a major conservation goal, and also ensures that these spectacular landscapes can be shared with the public.”

Through a grant provided by the State Wildlife Conservation Board, the easements are being purchased by the independent Tejon Ranch Conservancy, which was created as part of the 2008 agreement to manage the conserved lands. Audubon California will represent the five conservation groups that signed the 2008 agreement by holding third-party enforcement rights should the easements ever be violated.

The 62,000 acres in question, all of which had previously been identified by the Tejon Ranch Company as future development areas, represent some of the very best wildlife habitats on the Ranch, including the wildflower-rich grasslands and desert scrub in Los Angeles County to the south, and the oak woodlands, savannahs and streams in the Kern County northern section.

“This land is a vital link in California's most spectacular wildlife corridor -- connecting the Sierra to the sea and the past to our future,” said Lynn Sadler, resource group representative, Planning and Conservation League.

“Tejon Ranch is the largest contiguous private property remaining in California and the keystone for Southern California’s natural legacy,” said Sierra Club leader Jim Dodson, who represented the Sierra Club in the negotiations.

The wildlife diversity in these areas is equally as rich. The Bald Eagle, Golden Eagle, Burrowing Owl, Swainson’s Hawk, Tricolored Blackbird, Loggerhead Shrike and many other bird species call these areas home. The agreement will also preserve habitat for threatened and endangered species on the Ranch, including the California condor, San Joaquin kit fox, blunt-nosed leopard lizard, San Joaquin antelope squirrel, striped adobe lily, Bakersfield cactus, Valley elderberry longhorn beetle and Tehachapi slender salamander.

The conservation easements will restrict the landowner, the Tejon Ranch Company, from future development of the properties and give the Tejon Ranch Conservancy authority to plan for and implement measures necessary for conservation of the land.  The Conservancy will also oversee public access to the property, all off which has to date been off limits to the general public.