Tejon Ranch has agreed to pay $136,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging hunters illegally killed at least eleven mountain lions in recent years.
The suit and settlement end a nearly year long investigation into illegal hunting on the massive ranch, which stretches from the Grapevine to Arvin and beyond to Highway 58.
The investigation was sparked by a wrongful termination lawsuit filed by a former employee who said he was fired after complaining about mountain lions being illegally hunted.
At 270,000 acres, Tejon Ranch is the largest piece of private property in California. The oak-studded hills, along Interstate 5 are home to mountain lions. The animals are protected under state law and cannot be killed without a permit.
Last May, Bron Sanders, a former ranch hunting guide sued Tejon. In the lawsuit, Sanders said ranch managers gave hunting guides special perks for shooting mountain lions and even asked customers to participate.
The California Department of Fish and Game launched an extensive investigation. “They confirmed that mountain lions were killed. They were never able to determine the number. Part of that is the nature of the evidence,” said John Mitchell, Deputy District Attorney.
Mitchell said the Department of Fish and Game confirmed Sanders was involved in the killings of at least eleven mountain lions.
“I think the citizens of Kern County can feel comfortable the law applies equally. Whether it’s somebody who is out fishing without a license or a corporate citizen like Tejon Ranch,” continued Mitchell.
Tejon Ranch agreed to the settlement without admitting guilt. Barry Zoeller, the Tejon Ranch Spokesperson would not speak to 17 News on camera, but sent us a statement.
“Tejon Ranch wants to express its deep regret that such incidents took place on our property. The company is doing everything within its power to ensure that something like this never happens again,” he said.
As part of the settlement, Tejon Ranch has agreed to pay $100,000 in penalties. $21,500 in reimbursement of costs to the Department of Fish and Game and $15,000 to the Kern County Animal Control.