Historic Tejon Ranch Agreement Will Preserve 240,000 Acres

In one of the largest conservation deals in California history, a coalition of leading environmental organizations, with the assistance of SMW, reached a landmark agreement providing for the permanent protection of 240,000 acres of historic Tejon Ranch.

The 270,000-acre Tejon Ranch, owned by the publicly traded Tejon Ranch Company, is the largest contiguous private landholding in the state.  Located in Kern and Los Angeles Counties at the confluence of four major ecological regions—the Sierra Nevada, Mojave Desert, Coastal Range and San Joaquin Valley—the Ranch is an invaluable piece of California’s natural heritage and a hotspot of biological diversity.  With landscapes ranging from native grasslands to Joshua tree woodlands to oak and fir forests, the Ranch contains critical foraging habitat for the California condor and is home to over two dozen other rare plant and animal species, making it one of the most sought-after conservation properties in the state.

The Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, Audubon California, the Planning and Conservation League and the Endangered Habitats League reached agreement with the Company after nearly two years of scientific analysis of conservation values of the property and extensive talks regarding their future.  The groups recognized early on that the single ownership of the Ranch presented an unprecedented opportunity for preserving an enormous area of contiguous, unfragmented open space—an outcome that could not be achieved by challenging future development on a project-by-project basis.

The historic agreement—signed this June prior to any development approvals and without litigation—designates approximately 90 percent of the entire landholding for preservation, an area eight times the size of San Francisco.  Approximately 178,000 acres will be permanently protected through a combination of dedicated conservation easements and designated project open space areas.  The agreement also makes available an additional 62,000 acres of Tejon Ranch for purchase, resulting in a total of 240,000 acres of conserved land.  In exchange, the environmental groups agreed not to oppose future development on the remaining 10 percent of the land, though any such development would require all local, state and federal approvals.

The conserved lands will be overseen by an independent non-profit conservancy created and funded by the agreement.  The mission of the Tejon Ranch Conservancy is “to preserve, enhance and restore the native biodiversity and ecosystem values of Tejon Ranch and the Tehachapi Range for the benefit of California’s future generations.”

Public access to the conserved lands is a key component of the agreement.  The agreement provides an easement of up to 10,000 acres for the realignment of 37 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail through Tejon Ranch, and public access to other parts of the property will managed by the Conservancy.  The parties have agreed to work with the state to create a major new State Park within the conserved lands.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for conservation of California’s wildlife heritage on a staggering geographic scale,” said Joel Reynolds, Senior Attorney and Director of the Southern California Program at NRDC.

SMW and planning consultant Terry Watt assisted the environmental groups in negotiating the Tejon Ranch Agreement.  The groups also received valuable assistance from Dave Myerson of the Resource Opportunity Group and Mike White of the Conservation Biology Institute.  “Getting to the agreement was difficult and both sides took considerable risks in staying at the table,” said Bill Corcoran, Senior Regional Representative for the Sierra Club.  “But it has been well worth it to protect the stunning beauty of Tejon Ranch and its critical role as the keystone of Southern California’s natural legacy.”  The firm is honored to have been part of the extraordinary effort to preserve Tejon Ranch. 

You can view the agreement here and the Conservation and Land Use map here.  For more information, visit  http://www.tejonconservancy.org/.