Condor Experts Condemn Proposed Tejon Ranch Development

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Jeff Miller, Center for Biological Diversity, (510) 499-9185

Condor Experts Condemn Proposed Tejon Ranch Development

Proposed “Conservation” Plan Will Hurt Endangered California Condors

LOS ANGELES - A group of
esteemed condor biologists, including former leaders and members of the Fish and
Wildlife Service's condor research team and federal condor recovery team, has
weighed in on the controversial plan to develop Tejon Ranch, broadly
condemning
Tejon's development proposal and its associated proposed Habitat
Conservation Plan.

The scientists, including some of
the most important names in the history of the conservation of the California
condor, called for the rejection of Tejon's request for a permit to harm
critically endangered condors.

"This remarkable group of experts
who have devoted years of their lives to helping bringing the condor back from
the brink of extinction have written a damning report on Tejon's massive sprawl
development plans," said Jeff Miller, conservation advocate with the Center for
Biological Diversity. "The consensus among independent biologists is that
Tejon's supposed conservation plan fails to protect condors and their proposed
developments would significantly harm the recovery of the
species."

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
is currently considering Tejon's application for a Tehachapi Upland
Multi-Species Habitat Conservation Plan, which would include a "take" permit for
27 endangered, threatened, or rare species on Tejon Ranch. The permits are
essential to Tejon's plans to develop Tejon Mountain Village, the controversial
luxury-home subdivision planned within the heart of designated critical habitat
for the California condor.

"The condor is being brought back
literally from the brink of extinction through extreme intervention and at a
cost of millions of dollars in public and private funds," said Miller. "Given
the importance of Tejon Ranch for the recovery of condors, it is inappropriate
and legally indefensible that condors would be considered for any kind of "take"
under this permit. The Conservation Plan is fatally flawed and should be
withdrawn."

The centerpiece of Tejon's condor
"Conservation Plan" is a supposed mitigation for development impacts of
establishing artificial food stations to provide carcasses for scavenging
condors. Replacing natural foraging grounds with artificial feeding stations
would effectively relegate condors to outdoor zoo species, which the experts
describe as "neither necessary nor desirable." The condor biologists reject this
mitigation as inconsistent with the recovery of condors, since feeding stations
adversely affect condor foraging behavior and movements and result in
detrimental behaviors such as microtrash ingestion and human
habituation.

The scientists note that the
developments would: harm condors by significantly reducing the amount of
high-quality foraging habitat; end hunting in current condor foraging areas,
which would reduce natural food supplies; inhibit condor use of the area through
effects of urbanization; and possibly alter condor movement patterns. The
scientists conclude that the proposed developments would "appreciably reduce the
likelihood of recovery of the California condor and adversely modify critical
habitat," and represent a "major threat to recovery of the
species."

Tejon Ranch, and specifically the
proposed Tejon Mountain Village area,
is important condor critical
habitat because of (1) its abundant food supply of carrion; (2) strong
and reliable winds essential for efficient condor foraging movement; (3) healthy
populations of other scavengers that help condors locate food; (4) the
geographic position of the ranch at a central crossroads for condor movements
between other important condor use areas; (5) the area's long history of
isolation from detrimental human influences associated with urbanization; and
(6) the local availability of suitable overnight roosting
locations.

Despite condor movement in the past
decade being strongly influenced by the operation of feeding stations away from
Tejon Ranch near condor release areas, many of the released birds have
rediscovered and reoccupied Tejon. The Tejon Mountain Village area has been one of the most heavily
used portions of condor critical habitat in recent years, with the Southern California population heavily using Tejon in 2008
and 2009 for foraging. However, Tejon's flawed Conservation Plan excludes much
of this important critical habitat for condors from consideration for protection
in order to satisfy its development desires.

The Center for Biological Diversity
also submitted comments
yesterday on the inadequacy of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the
Conservation Plan and its violations of the Endangered Species Act and National
Environmental Protection Act with respect to impacts on
condors.

In 1997, as the Fish and Wildlife
Service began releasing captive-reared California condors to the wild, Tejon Ranch sued the
Service in an attempt to halt the release of California condors near Tejon Ranch, curtail
the condor recovery program, and relegate the condors to a special status
without protection under the Endangered Species Act. Although the lawsuit was
arguably meritless, it was minimally defended by the government, which instead
settled the case for what is believed to be a sweetheart deal that has resulted
in the current plan and take permit application.

The scientists sending the letter
are:

David A. Clendenen: condor field
biologist, Condor Research Center (1982-1994); lead biologist for USFWS in
charge of condor field studies (1994-1997); Condor Recovery Team member
(1995-2000).

Janet A. Hamber: condor biologist at
the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History (1976-present); cooperator with
USFWS in condor nesting and telemetry studies (1980-present); archivist and
manager of Condor Information System (1988-present).

Dr. Allen Mee: post-doctoral fellow
for the Zoological Society of San Diego (2001-2006); researcher on condor
breeding in California and Arizona; convener of condor symposium at AOU 2005
conference, Santa Barbara; senior editor of California Condors in the 21st
Century
(2007); currently manager of White-tailed Sea Eagle Reintroduction
Program in Ireland.

Dr. Vicky J. Meretsky: field
biologist in charge of telemetry interpretations, Condor Research Center
(1984-1986); senior author of Range, Use and Movements of California
Condors
(1992); senior author of Demography of the California
Condor
(2000); associate professor of environmental science, adjunct
appointment to the Department of Biology and affiliated faculty at the Maurer
School of Law, Indiana University (1997-present).

Bruce K. Palmer: former U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service coordinator for the California Condor Recovery Program
(2000-2004); worked on the development of components of the Tehachapi
Multi-species Habitat Conservation Plan (MSHCP).

Anthony Prieto: co-founder of hunter
organization Project Gutpile (1999-present).

Fred C. Sibley: former field leader
of condor research program for USFWS (1966-1969); author of Effects of the
Sespe Creek Project on the California Condor
(1969).

Dr. Noel F.R. Snyder: former field
leader of condor research program for USFWS (1980-1986); former member of Condor
Recovery Team (1980-1986); senior author of The California Condor, a saga of
natural history
and conservation (2000); senior author of
Introduction to the California Condor (2005); recipient of William
Brewster Award of American Ornithologists' Union for research and conservation
work with the California Condor and Puerto Rican Parrot,
1989.

William D. Toone: Condor Recovery
Team member (1986-1992); Curator of Birds, Zoological Society of San Diego
(1983-1993); Director of Applied Conservation, Zoological Society of San Diego
(1993-2003); Founding trustee and Executive Director of the ECOLIFE foundation
(2003-present).

For more information on protecting
Tejon Ranch see www.savetejonranch.org.

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At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature - to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters, and climate that species need to survive.

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