LOS ANGELES, January 15, 2021 – The Center for Biological Diversity filed a response today to Tejon Ranchcorp’s legal effort to seek $347,000 in fees from Center attorneys after the nonprofit organization and tribal groups challenged a plan to build a luxury resort on thousands of acres of critical habitat for the California condor.
“Tejon and its Wall Street backers have reached a new low by trying to intimidate our organization for working to enforce federal laws designed to protect sacred Native American cultural resources,” said J.P. Rose, an attorney with the Center. “We’re confident the court will reject this heavy-handed attempt to silence us and our clients.”
Tejon filed a motion seeking the money in late December as part of a legal battle over the resort. The Center and tribal groups had sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in April 2019 for authorizing Tejon’s luxury resort development without considering how it would harm the condor as a sacred cultural resource for Native Americans. In December 2020 a judge sided with the Fish and Wildlife Service, despite the agency’s lack of expertise regarding the condor’s significance to Native Americans.
The Center’s challenge to the permit arises from a lawsuit filed by Tejon against the federal government in 1997, where Tejon sought to halt condor recovery efforts near the Ranch. In response to 1997 Tejon’s lawsuit, Tejon obtained an agreement to obtain federal authorization to harm condors for Tejon’s resort development — the first permit of its kind to harm the critically endangered bird.
Tejon’s retaliation campaign against the Center comes just weeks after it became public that Tejon is allegedly in breach of the historic 2008 “Ranchwide Agreement” with Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club and other conservation groups. These groups filed a lawsuit against Tejon on Dec. 2, 2020, after Tejon apparently refused to make legally required payments to the Tejon Ranch Conservancy, which is charged with managing conservation lands on the Ranch.
The Center and other groups have long argued that the private Ranchwide Agreement is inadequate to protect the Ranch, particularly when the state of California has spent millions of taxpayer dollars to preserve portions of it. Tejon blacklisted the California Native Plant Society and Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden from accessing the Ranch and was subject to fines for the illegal killing of at least 11 mountain lions to accommodate trophy game hunters.
“Time and again Tejon has proven unable or unwilling to protect the Ranch and has instead used the Ranchwide Agreement as a shield to pursue damaging development and as a sword to intimidate environmental groups,” said Rose. “We urge state and local officials to take an active role in managing the Ranch to ensure public access and protection of its immense biodiversity.”
In recent legal filings in its litigation with NRDC, Tejon has suggested without evidence that NRDC and the other signatories to the Ranchwide Agreement have conspired with the Center to oppose Tejon developments in breach of the agreement. Although the Center is neither a party to the agreement nor part of Tejon’s litigation with NRDC, Tejon has also demanded that the Center produce 24 broad categories of documents.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places. www.biologicaldiversity.org