Club, Allies Strike Historic California Conservation Deal
After years of legal wrangling, on May 8, the Sierra Club and partner groups announced 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. 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.
"For Southern California, this is the ecological equivalent of the Louisiana Purchase," says Sierra Club Senior Regional Representative Bill Corcoran, pictured above speaking at a press conference with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and others to announce the deal. "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."
Tejon Ranch's vast scale and unique combination of rolling plains, steep ridges, and oak-studded hills have made protection of the ranch the long-dreamed prize of conservationists—in 2005 the Sierra Club made the ranch its top priority in California. Corcoran, who began working on the issue eight years ago, has been negotiating the conservation deal for 20 months; he describes the negotiations as "often difficult but always in good faith." Longtime Club activist Jim Dodson, a key player in the California Desert Protection Act victory in the 1990s, was Corcoran's volunteer partner at the negotiating table, and local Club activists from the Kern-Kaweah and Angeles Chapters were briefed throughout the process.
The Club worked in partnership with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Audubon California, the Planning and Conservation League, and the Endangered Habitats League. "It took a village to preserve the ranch," says Corcoran. In return for keeping 90 percent of the property in its natural state, the Club and its allies agreed not to challenge proposed development on the western and southwestern edge of the ranch, near Interstate 5.
"In my opinion," says Corcoran, "California will never again see a private land conservation agreement of this size and ecological importance."
Top photo by Jeff Gantman. Bottom photo by Bill Corcoran.