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How Tejon Ranch planners would protect condors

January 21, 2009 |  6:29 pm

The Tejon Ranch Co.’s draft plan to protect the California condor on 142,000 acres of the largest chunk of privately owned wilderness in Southern California would bury new utility lines and create feeding stations away from a proposed complex of luxury homes, hotels and golf courses.

Company officials said the plan would be made available for public comment in the near future.

The plan would also make the company potentially criminally liable in the event of the death of one of the federally endangered birds as a result of ranch activities in the area covered by the plan, which also provides special protections for 26 other species, including the yellow-blotched salamander and striped adobe lily.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to release a draft environmental impact statement soon  on the plan, designed by the ranch to strike a balance between habitat conservation and activities including development of its proposed Tejon Mountain Village complex.

The ranch was required to file a conservation plan with the service because it is seeking a special permit that would protect it from liability in the event of injury to sensitive species other than the condor.

Tejon Mountain Village, in addition to other activities including mining and construction of a new 502-acre national veterans cemetery, would consume about 8% of the federally designated critical habitat for condors in the area covered by the Tehachapi Uplands Multi-Species Habitat Conservation Plan.

“Our goal is to provide the protections to endangered species necessary to move forward with our various activities, including development,” said Barry Zoeller, spokesman for the ranch.

Some condor biologists are strongly opposed to Tejon Mountain Village, which they worry would result in substantial harm to condors and weaken the concept of federally designated critical habitat for endangered species.

In an earlier interview, Adam Keats, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, which specializes in fighting development projects, said Tejon Mountain Village “should not be allowed to happen.... We’ve rolled up our sleeves and we’re fighting the hell out of it.”

In May, the ranch and a coalition of environmental groups agreed on a landmark strategy to preserve 90% of the entire 270,000-acre privately held spread, a nearly pristine landscape in the Tehachapi Mountains about 60 miles north of Los Angeles where gray foxes and bobcat prowl secluded meadows and great horned owls roost in the boughs of 11 species of oak.

In exchange, environmental groups including the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club and Audubon California will not oppose the company’s overall plans to build three major developments, including more than 26,000 homes at the western and southwestern edges of the ranch.

--Louis Sahagun

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