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Historic deal for conservation in Calif.

May 8, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
After three long years, environmentalists and the owners of the vast Tejon Ranch have reached a deal that would set aside the largest parcel of land for conservation in California history.Some 270,000 acres of L.A. and Kern County will be preserved for the California Condor and other wildlife.

Click in the Eyewitness News Story Window above to watch John Gregory's report from the scene.

Tejon Ranch wants to build homes for people. Environmentalists want to preserve homes for wildlife. But on Thursday, both sides got what they want.

The agreement between Tejon Ranch and environmentalists will preserve an area almost as big as the city of Los Angeles.

Tejon Ranch is about 60 miles north of Los Angeles near the crest of the Tehachapi Mountains.

Some environmentalists are comparing the area to Yosemite in terms of its diversity of wildlife. The mountainous region is home to bears, elk, coyotes, and eagles. It is also one of the areas where the California condor is struggling to make a comeback.

"It does provide some really critical habitat for like the condor, which we manage on the Los Padres National Forest. It has the Pacific Crest Trail, which would be relocated in a better location off in the desert floor and coming up into the mountain country. And that would just be a real treat to the American public," said Bernie Weingard from the U.S. Forest Service.

In exchange for the preservation deal, environmentalists have agreed not to block plans to develop a part of the Tejon Ranch. Developers will be allowed to build up to 26,000 homes on 30,000 acres of the land, and there are also plans for golf courses and hotels.

Both sides are calling the agreement a victory.

"When forward thinking people, like the people that are standing here with me today, are willing to sit down and make something positive happen, those old battle lines can be terminated. In other words, there is a better way, and that better way is on full display right here today at this stunning California landscape," said Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

"It certainly can be a demonstration to public policy leaders that were committed to a balance of conservation and development," said Tejon Ranch Co. CEO Robert Stine.

The deal preserves about 90 percent of the Tejon Ranch land. An independent conservancy will be set up to manage the land, and the developer has agreed to donate some money for its upkeep.

The agreement also calls for a portion of the land to be turned into a state park.

The deal between Tejon Ranch and the environmentalists ends a legal fight that started back in 2005.

 

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