Great News for Californians

Some very good news was announced in California last week, the kind of news that gives you hope and helps get you through other environmental struggles that might not be going so well.

At a press conference on a sunny hillside 60 miles north of Los Angeles, the Sierra Club and others unveiled a deal to protect the largest contiguous parcel of land designated for conservation in California history -- 240,000 acres of stunningly diverse landscapes on the privately-owned Tejon Ranch south of Bakersfield. (Think about that: This is 2008 and we're still preserving massive hunks of land -- in Southern California no less!) At 375 square miles, the preserve of desert, woodlands, and grasslands is eight times the size of San Francisco and nearly the size of Los Angeles.

Our point man on the deal, senior regional representative Bill Corcoran, put it well: "For Southern California, this is the ecological equivalent of the Louisiana Purchase. It is the keystone for protecting Southern California's natural legacy, a crossroads where our state's mountains, valleys, and desert meet. Visitors to the heart of the ranch see California as it was—wild and achingly beautiful." The area is home to home to the endangered California condor and the kit fox.

The protected lands will be overseen by a new entity, the Tejon Ranch Conservancy, which will see to the permanent protection of about 178,000 acres through a combination of dedicated conservation easements and designated project open spaces. Also, around 10,000 acres of the ranch will be set aside for 37 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, which will be rerouted to the ranch's land.

In return for keeping 90 percent of the property in its natural state, the Club and its allies agreed not to challenge the development of 30,000 acres for industrial, resort and residential purposes on the western and southwestern edge of the ranch, near Interstate 5.

Now, this was not an overnight deal. Corcoran, who began working on the issue eight years ago, has been negotiating an agreement for 20 months along with former Club Director Jim Dodson and in consultation with local volunteer leaders; he describes the negotiations as "often difficult but always in good faith."

As Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope explains in his blog, back in 2005 and 2006, Tejon offered to set aside much smaller parts of the ranch for preservation, potentially allowing much more development than may occur under last week's agreement.

But the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, Audubon California, Planning and Conservation League and Endangered Habitats League turned down the offer and insisted that conservation not be limited to so little of the Ranch. The Sierra Club told the Tejon contingent that we would make saving Tejon one of our top California priorities, and that long and bitter litigation would precede any development approvals. The company came to the table, and last week we were able to announce this win for wildlife. As Carl says, "The Tejon victory is a sober reminder of the importance of setting your sights high, staying at the negotiating table, and being willing to bargain hard."

Image credits: The photo of the tree on the ranch land is taken by Bill Corcoran of the Sierra Club; and the press conference photo is by the Sierra Club's Jeff Gantman.

Tags: California | Conservation

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