HAS SPRING SPRUNG YET?!
Story and photos by Stewardship Manager Laura Pavliscak
At the tail end of winter, March is a time of spring reckoning on Tejon Ranch. Will there be impressive wildflowers? An abundance of weeds? Productive forage for cattle and wildlife? Relief for our drought-stressed shrubs and trees? Through the winter we wonder and come March, all is (mostly) revealed.
Photo: El Paso Canyon
In our area of California, over 75% of our annual average precipitation is recorded between November and March. Looking specifically at the Old Headquarters weather station in the southern San Joaquin Valley near the heart of Tejon Ranch, we expect almost 12 inches of rain annually, with just over 9 inches falling in that rainy season. Any California resident knows this has been a particularly dry winter and Tejon Ranch is no exception. Our first measurable rains began in January, and until March we’d received only 1.7 inches. Adding to that, it has been warmer than usual. Low temperatures during the winter months in this area of the Ranch average between 36°F and 40°F. This year our lows averaged between 50°F and 54°F.
Photo: Mountain lion track in El Paso Canyon
Collectively, precipitation and temperature play a critical role in the abundance and survival of all things living, from the beautiful native wildflower displays we hope for in the spring, to the abundance of acorns in the fall, to the thriving of wildlife that depend on these critical resources to create new generations. While we have observed and documented the effects of drought on the Ranch to date, every winter our hopes surge that conditions will be favorable to support our incredible wild landscape.
That brings us back to the revelations of March, the bookend to our classic rainy season and often our wettest month of the year. Precipitation totals aren’t yet in from our Old Headquarters weather station, but we estimate we’ve had another 1.5 to 2 inches. While this rain signals a welcomed reprieve from a parched winter, collectively we’ve still only had between 36% to 41% of our average winter precipitation to date.
Photo: Tree on the Haul Road
Through the winter, the Ranch has been greening up slowly and this last pulse of rain has dramatically jump-started the process. The miracle of spring is beginning, even in these drier times. Often, late rains give our native herbaceous plants an advantage over the surrounding Mediterranean grasses, which could result in showy wildflowers, albeit no “super bloom.”
Photo: Live Oak Canyon
Wildflowers or not, a little precipitation, warming temperatures, and longer days mean the living world is waking up on Tejon, unfurling from winter dormancy and making a go at another growth season. Cottonwoods and willows are pushing out leaf buds, mosses and lichens are pulsing vibrant hues, loggerhead shrikes are stocking up their springtime larders, signs of animal activity are evident in the moist earth, and the green skirts of the Tehachapis are coming to life all around us. It is a miracle to behold, and every year it feels profoundly hopeful.
Photo: Cottonwood leaf buds in Tejon Canyon
Marveling at the wild world in peak vigor is a gift here, made more meaningful by the constraint of drought. We hope to see you out on the Ranch this spring to share in this pulse of life, this annual miracle. With any luck, we might have a few colorful wildflowers to enjoy too.
Photo: The corral at Campo Bonito