The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) is announcing an opportunity for public input on two draft documents that evaluate and would limit the environmental impacts to threatened and endangered species of planned residential development and ranch activities on Tejon Ranch in southern Kern County.
The documents – a Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS) and the Draft Tehachapi Uplands Multi-Species Habitat Conservation Plan (MSHCP) – are available for public review and comment until May 3, 2012.
The SDEIS updates the analysis presented in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement and MSHCP that the Service released in February 2009. The revised SDEIS addresses public comments we received on the 2009 Draft Environmental Impact Statement, and considers a 2010 analysis by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) on occurrence of California condors in and around lands proposed to be covered by the MSHCP.
The Service received an application from Tejon Ranch Company for an incidental take permit covering 27 listed and unlisted species, including the California condor, which may be taken or otherwise affected by on-going ranch activities and proposed low-density residential and commercial development activities on a portion of Tejon Ranch. Take is defined in the Federal Endangered Species Act (Act) as to harass, harm, pursue, wound, kill, hunt, capture, shoot, trap or collect a threatened or endangered species, or attempt to do any of these activities. An incidental take permit authorizes take of a listed species that may occur incidental to otherwise lawful activities.
A new alternative, the Condor Critical Habitat Avoidance Alternative, has been added to the SDEIS to address several public comments suggesting that proposed development areas should be reconfigured to avoid federally designated critical habitat for the California condor.
The 2010 USGS analysis identified individual condor home ranges for the population of California condors occupying southern California, and clarified that condors currently use, and are likely to continue to use, suitable habitat throughout Tejon Ranch. The USGS analysis on the condor’s use of the ranch aided the Service in analyzing the potential effects of each of the alternatives in the SDEIS.
The No Action Alternative has been revised in the SDEIS. This alternative assumes that Tejon Ranch Company’s 2008 Ranchwide Agreement would remain in effect, that development of Tejon Mountain Village and other future commercial or residential development allowed within the lands proposed to be covered by the permit would not occur, and that existing ranch uses would continue at current levels into the future.
Tejon Ranch Company submitted the MSHCP to satisfy the requirements for an incidental take permit under the Act. The permit is requested to authorize the incidental take of species that could potentially result from plan-wide activities, including grazing, film production and other ongoing historic uses occurring throughout 141,886 acres, and from approximately 5,533 acres of mountain resort and other development adjacent to the Interstate 5 corridor and Lebec community, all lands proposed to be covered by the permit. The permit would not cover take caused by hunting or mineral extraction.
The MSHCP, authored by Tejon Ranch Company with input from the Service, describes measures to be taken by Tejon Ranch to minimize and mitigate effects of its activities on 27 native plants, animals, including California condors. Four animals are listed as threatened or endangered under the Act. Some of the other 23 animals and plants are listed by the California Department of Fish and Game under the California Endangered Species Act. Federally-listed and candidate species included in the proposed habitat conservation plan include the California condor, least Bell’s vireo, southwestern willow flycatcher, valley elderberry longhorn beetle, and western yellow-billed cuckoo.
The Service’s proposed issuance of an incidental take permit triggers the need for compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act. To that end, the Service prepared the SDEIS, which evaluates the impacts of proposed issuance of the permit and implementation of the multiple-species habitat conservation plan, and also evaluates the impacts of a reasonable range of alternatives.
No California condors would be permitted to be killed under the permit proposed to be issued by the Service. The MSHCP proposes a conservation strategy to minimize and mitigate to the maximum extent practicable any impacts that could occur to covered species resulting from the covered activities.
Should any of the unlisted covered wildlife species become listed under the Act during the proposed 50-year term of the permit, take authorization for those species would become effective upon listing.
In the MSHCP, and consistent with the 2008 Ranchwide Agreement among Tejon Ranch Company, the Sierra Club, National Audubon Society, Natural Resources Defense Council, Endangered Habitats League, and Planning and Conservation League, part of the mitigation for Tejon Ranch’s activities would be the prohibition of development on 93,522 acres, including a 37,100-acre ridge-line area of the ranch used by condors and that is part of a Condor Study Area. Additionally, approximately 23,001 acres would be preserved as open space within the proposed Tejon Mountain Village.
The MSHCP would require that a biologist monitor ranch activities to reduce the potential for contact between people and condors. In addition, conditions and restrictions on residential development would be in place and enforced by Tejon Ranch to minimize impacts to condors. Other mitigation in the MSHCP includes a permanent ban on lead ammunition implemented by Tejon Ranch Company on Tejon Ranch’s 270,000-acre property in January 2008. The ingestion of lead has been the leading cause of mortality in condors.
The notice of availability for the two documents published in the Federal Register today and a copy is available for viewing at http://www.federalregister.gov. The SDEIS and associated documents, including the MSHCP, can be viewed and downloaded at the Ventura Fish and Wildlife Office’s web site at: http://www.fws.gov/ventura, or can be obtained by writing to the Ventura Fish and Wildlife Office at 2493 Portola Road, Suite B, Ventura, California 93003. A copy of each of the documents is also available for public review during normal business hours at the Kern County Library at 3732 Park Drive in Frazier Park, California.