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Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The Biological Value of Tejon Ranch

More Unaffordable
Housing… Or A New State
Or Federal Park?

By Ileene Anderson and Adam Keats

From Sierra Club's Desert Report, September 2007

At the crossroads of California where valleys, mountains, and deserts meet, lies Tejon Ranch:
270,750 acres of private land, the largest contiguous parcel left in California. Tejon straddles the Tehachapi Range of the southern Sierra Mountains from the San Joaquin Valley floor to the desert slopes of the Antelope Valley. Today, when driving “the Grapevine” section of Interstate 5, people enjoy views of oak dappled grasslands and chaparral along the western edge of Tejon. In spring, the slopes explode in stunning wildflower shows. Currently home to the California condor, Tejon Ranch is at a crossroads in time. Within the next few years, decisions will be made that will irrevocably alter the fate of Tejon Ranch and the quintessential California natural landscape that we know today.

Why is Tejon Ranch so special? Scientists consider Tejon Ranch to be a “biological diversity hotspot” because of its highly unique concentration of a large number of plants and animals. It is the only place where four “eco-regions” – the San Joaquin Valley, Mojave Desert, Sierra Nevada, and South Coast – converge. Home to over 80 imperiled species, including the San Joaquin Kit Fox, California Spotted Owl, the Tehachapi Slender Salamander, and many other plants and animals that live no where else on Earth, it also provides crucial biological connections between adjacent protected natural lands, linking the Sierras to the southern coast ranges and the desert to the coast and San Joaquin Valley. Incomparable native grasslands on the east side of Tejon represent a plant community that has been virtually eliminated throughout most of California and the West, supporting the pronghorn antelope, the namesake of the eastern valley. From towering valley oaks to their diminutive scrub oak cousins, Tejon contains the richest number of oak species in the state. The land now called Tejon Ranch harbors a rich cultural legacy for numerous Native American tribes. Sacred sites and historic villages are located throughout the property and are essential for maintaining and revitalizing tribal cultures. Historic ranchos and other ranching artifacts from the Californio period also remain on the ranch. Tejon is truly a living history of California’s rich and extraordinary past. Two of the largest earthquake faults in California meet on Tejon Ranch: the San Andreas Fault (the mother of all fault lines in California) and the Garlock Fault, which forms the Tehachapi Mountains. These large, active, and wide destructive fault zones are foolish places on which to build new cities.

What is planned for Tejon Ranch? The Tejon Ranch Company, a publicly-traded company heavily invested in by Wall Street, has proposed a series of sprawling urban developments that could destroy Tejon’s natural and cul-tural heritage, jeopardize the recovery of the California condor, seriously congest southern California’s freeways and highways, and increase air pollution in two of the nation’s worst air quality basins. The Company is piecemealing these developments, which are remote from any municipal infrastructure, to benefit their distant corporate stockholders. In doing so, they are violating one of the prime considerations of environmental review: cumulative impact. The proposed luxury “Tejon Mountain Village” in Kern County, sprawling over 37,000 acres and building golf courses, second and third vacation homes, and commercial space, would carve the heart out of Tejon. It would badly compromise prime Condor habitat – habitat upon which the survival of the species in the wild might depend. This exclusive development would irrevocably change the quality and quantity of wildlands in this crucial area of the Tehachapi Mountains, turning it into a playground for the wealthy homeowners. The enormous 23,000-house “Centennial” project in Los Angeles County is the largest housing development ever proposed in California’s history and is located on lands that currently support many more pronghorn than people. This new city would require long commutes to jobs in Los Angeles, Bakersfield, or Palmdale/Lancaster, adding to traffic congestion, worsening air quality, and increasing green house gas emissions since there are no public transit systems to serve the area.. The partially constructed “Tejon Industrial Complex” along Interstate 5 in Kern County is a megabox industrial complex, slated for a major expansion on prime agricultural land. This “inland port” would increase diesel truck traffic in the already seriously polluted southern San Joaquin Valley and add to truck traffic congestion on Interstate 5. The burdens to local public services from these projects are daunting. Ultimately, county taxpayers will pay for new basic infrastructure including fire protection and emergency medical services in these remote areas of the counties.

… So what’s the solution? Significant conservation investments have already been made to secure the biological connectivity around the southern San Joaquin Valley. Using the national forests and monuments as building blocks, both private and public monies have been used to secure adjacent areas as natural open space. One big gap remains – Tejon Ranch. Because of its unique natural, cultural, and historic resources, the Center for Biological Diversity and Sierra Club, in coordination with other conservation organizations, are aiming to convince state and federal officials that Tejon should be the government’s highest priority for wildland protection – a lasting legacy for our future generations. Based on evaluations by eminent conservation biologists, this group is asking state and federal officials to secure and preserve at least 245,000 acres of Tejon as a new state or national park… forever. When this goal is reached, everyone will be able to explore and enjoy the oak dappled foothills of the southern Sierra Nevada, the fir-topped peaks of theTehachapi Mountains, the poppy-covered desert slopes of Antelope Valley, and glimpse the vast wingspan of prehistoric Condor!...all just 60 miles north of Los Angeles at Tejon- Tehachapi Park!

Ileene Anderson is a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity and coordinator of the Center’s efforts to achieve the Tejon-Tehachapi Park vision. Adam Keats is director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Urban Wildlands Program.

To learn more about Tejon Natural Park, please visit and

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