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State takes key step toward preserving Tejon Ranch wilderness

The state on Thursday approved the purchase of conservation easements on 62,000 acres in Tejon Ranch, the first step in implementing an agreement that would protect up to 240,000 acres of wild lands in one of the largest pieces of private property in California.

The $15.8-million grant from the state Wildlife Conservation Board will establish one of the largest conservation easements in California’s history.

“If the Tejon Ranch is the Holy Grail of conservation in California — and it is — the Wildlife Conservation Board is the people’s knight in shining armor,” said Joel Reynolds of the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of five conservation groups that signed the 2008 agreement with the Tejon Ranch Co., which owns the 270,000-acre ranch that stretches from Los Angeles County to Kern County and is thought to contain some of the state’s most ecologically rich landscapes.

The conservation board’s grant will be used by the Tejon Ranch Conservancy, which was created to manage the newly protected lands, to purchase easements on five parcels that include Joshua tree and oak woodlands, Mojave Desert grasslands, riparian woodlands and San Joaquin Valley grasslands.

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Graham Chisholm, chairman of the Tejon Ranch Conservancy board of directors and executive director of Audubon California, said Thursday’s announcement ensured the original deal will be honored.

“While the 2008 agreement was a landmark achievement for the conservation of these lands, the purchase of these easements really cements the victory,” he said.

The conservation easements will prevent the Tejon Ranch Co. from future development of the properties but allows ranching and hunting activities to continue. The conservancy will have authority to plan for conservation of the land and public access to the property.

The Tejon Ranch Co. has agreed to place 178,000 acres in conservation easements, but that process is dependent on approval of the company’s development projects elsewhere on the ranch.

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julie.cart@latimes.com


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