Tejon RancH Conservancy eNews July 2017

On the Ranch

I met so many kindred spirits recently at our first annual Ranch Round Up. Friends, members, and supporters traveled both north and south to help celebrate the work of the Conservancy, share ideas, enjoy great food and wine, and most importantly, just enjoy an evening under the oaks and a tour across the ranch the next morning. We’ve shared some pictures, and hope that we’ll see you next year. I chatted with so many Conservancy friends, but the highlights for me had to be meeting Jack Thomson, whose grandmother was General Beale’s family’s governess. Jack is also Conservancy board member Emmy Cattani’s 95-year-young grandad!

I’m fascinated by geology and have been intrigued by the recent discoveries on the Ranch indicating we once were in the midst of a huge river draining the inland seas of what are now our deserts. David Miller brings us a two-part series on this amazing geologic story. One of our docent naturalists shares photos and an update on the fawns of our most charismatic species, the Pronghorn.

While July brings the searing dry heat of summer to Tejon, it also brings more activity to the Conservancy with tours and visits from interested groups, as well as two new interns from CSUB, three from the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at UC Santa Barbara, and several researchers continuing to explore this amazing resource at the intersection of four California ecologies. July, sadly, also brings the departure of Science Director Mike White who shares his memories and hopes for the Conservancy, and his plans to stay connected in his new chapter. Thank you Mike!

It seems like everyone is asking for money these days. So many people doing important work, all voices in the chorus, hoping to make our world a better place. Well, we hope you will choose our little Conservancy with the very BIG goal to be one of your favorite causes. Whether it’s bird-watching, native plants, citizen science, or just fresh air, blue skies, and wind in your hair, we’d like you too, to be part of something BIG, by becoming a member or a volunteer at Tejon!

See you on the Ranch!

Bob Reid

President and CEO

Saying Goodbye

By Conservancy Science Director Mike White, PhD

For me the past eight years have raced by, which is not surprising when things are as busy and exciting as they have been at the Conservancy. At the same time, I feel like I have spent so much time trying to get to know and understand the Tejon Ranch, it’s as if I have grown up here. And in many ways, I have—the Ranch and this job have changed my life and it is hard to imagine leaving. But now that I am beginning another chapter of my life, it is important for me to share with you what this place, its conservation, and its people mean to me.

I began exploring conservation issues at Tejon Ranch in 2002 while working for the Conservation Biology Institute (CBI), a science-based conservation nonprofit. Because Tejon Ranch has long been considered a statewide conservation priority, CBI received private foundation funding to assess the conservation values of the Ranch and surrounding region. In late 2006, the Tejon Ranch Company and its development partners approached several major environmental organizations about developing a conservation and development master plan for the Ranch. This environmental coalition invited me and other conservation biologists and planners to advise them during an intense 18-month process of high-stakes negotiations—an experience I will never forget.

The first six months of the negotiations were as much about building trust as building a master plan. Both sides were extremely guarded with each other, but our goals clarified and coalesced over time. In the spring of 2008, our discussions culminated with a multi-day, lock-down meeting at a hotel in Newport Beach, with representatives from all organizations present for the duration. This was a focused, emotion-packed meeting, but our discussions were always collegial, and, ultimately, led to a successful framework for an agreement. The Ranch-wide Agreement signed in June 2008 was unprecedented and hailed nationally as a unique model of cooperative regional conservation planning. This was a completely private conservation agreement—without any local, state, or federal government agencies; no permits or approvals were involved. The Agreement provided permanent conservation of 240,000 acres (90%) of the Ranch and created a nonprofit conservation organization (the Tejon Ranch Conservancy) to conduct research, oversee stewardship, and provide public access to the conserved lands.

A novel part of the Ranch Wide Agreement, or RWA, is that the Tejon Ranch remains a working Ranch—and is subject to conservation management practices (Best Management Practices or BMPs)—all of which had to be worked out over the next five years between the Conservancy and the Tejon Ranch Company. That is to say, the landowner will continue economic activities such as grazing and hunting in conserved lands, but these activities are subject to standards developed by the Conservancy to protect and enhance conservation values. Thus, the RWA outlines a framework for science-based adaptive management to be implemented on the largest piece of private property in the state. To me, the Tejon Conservation Agreement is incredibly important not just because it protects such a rich and important landscape, but also because of its cooperative, science-based approach to conservation.

"this opportunity to experience the Ranch has itself shaped my life."

Of course, the real work was yet to come on this largely unexplored property—developing a cooperative management strategy for the protected lands themselves. The Agreement created, at least on paper, the Tejon Ranch Conservancy, to “protect, enhance, and restore” the conservation values of these conserved lands. Where to start? Remember that in the summer of 2008 the Conservancy was just an idea. So, a Board of Directors was formed, paperwork forming the organization was prepared and filed, and, while still with CBI, I began working for the fledgling, unstaffed Conservancy as a contractor. The Board then hired the Conservancy’s first Executive Director, Tom Maloney, in early 2009. Tom asked me to serve as the Conservancy’s first Conservation Science Director in August 2009.

The thought of being part of the Conservancy led to many sleepless nights and long discussions with my wife about our future. I had a great job, working out of our home-office in Encinitas, and I wasn’t looking to move from my bubble by the beach. But I had written a lot of conservation and management plans in my career that someone else would implement (or put on a shelf), and here was my opportunity to lead the development and implementation of management practices, on a large and amazing piece of land at that! As Conservation Science Director, my job would be to study the resources of the Ranch, get to know the landscape, and formulate and implement management recommendations for it. Like, OMG am I dreaming?

"I saw my first mountain lion in the wild at Tejon and now have seen eight."

So, when Tom asked me to join the Conservancy, it was impossible for me to turn down this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The rest, as they say, is history. This is a good time to say thanks to my wife, Jerre Stallcup, for joining me on this adventure. We had a beautiful place up on the mountain with good views, incredible birds and other wildlife, and a serenity that few people get to experience. We enjoyed our time there and feel grateful for the opportunity.

Fast forward, and now, with a remarkably talented staff, the Conservancy has laid the foundation for monitoring and managing this amazing landscape. I am proud to have been part of this groundwork, building from scratch a research program leading to a Ranch-wide Management Plan that became the basis for the work of a new organization. Thank you to all these staff, and our Board of Directors, advisors, researchers, funders, and volunteers, just a few of whom I mention below.

• All my dedicated and hardworking compañeros at the Conservancy over the years—Tom, Jen, Chris, Lauren, Phoebe, Scot, Laura, Ben, Ellery, Bob, Tim, Susan, Amy, Marissa, Kayla, Mark, and Ashley. You have enriched my experiences at the Ranch and I’ll never forget you.

• The Resource Groups, attorneys from Shute, Mihaly, and Weinberger, and the rest of the Agreement negotiating team—I am proud to have been there with you.

• The Conservancy Board of Directors—it has been an honor to work with some of the most influential and respected conservationists in California. I appreciate the opportunity, assistance, and direction that you have provided me over the years.

• Our Science Advisory Panel of world-renowned experts—I am so honored that you took the time to help me and the Conservancy over the years. I have appreciated your advice, knowledge, and friendship—thank you!

• Funders, partners and collaborators—you have helped increase our knowledge of the Tehachapi region, improving our understanding and ability to better manage Tejon Ranch.

• Our volunteers, docents, and citizen scientists—it has been rewarding and fun to watch you all get as excited about the Ranch as we do! My deepest gratitude to our volunteers and docents; you make such a big difference and your passion is inspiring.

• The Tejon Ranch staff that has welcomed and worked in good faith with me over the years.

As part of our work, we commissioned or facilitated over 50 research projects, which allowed me the opportunity to interact with many interesting scientists, including dozens of students and early career scientists. There has been so much good research done at Tejon, but a few projects are especially worth noting. First and foremost is our long-standing partnership with Dr. Jamie Bartolome’s Range Ecology Lab at UC Berkeley. Jamie’s insights, and the PhD research of his former student, Dr. Sheri Spiegal, really changed the way I look at grasslands and how I think about managing them. This research was extended into riparian habitats by another of Jamie’s doctoral students, Dr. Felix Ratcliff, and likewise extended my thinking about integrating grassland and riparian conservation management. Thanks to everyone from the Lab who helped at the Ranch over the years.

We have had numerous group Master’s projects from the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at UCSB that have improved our understanding of various ecological facets of the Ranch. More importantly, these projects have afforded me the opportunity to interact with our next generation of conservationists.

The amazing botanical work of Nick Jensen, Neal Kramer, and dozens of other botanists has radically increased our understanding of the rich and complex flora of Tejon Ranch and its biological significance statewide. They have documented an incredible diversity of plants, including many rare and endemic species, despite the fact that it was during several years of the worst drought in our state’s recent history.

Frank Davis PhD and colleagues have been doing some of the most broadly relevant research on the Ranch, looking at how small-scale physical variations on the landscape influence “microclimates” and the ability of trees we care about, like oaks and pines, to survive in different parts of the landscape and under changing climates. This research has the potential to change the way we think about global climate change, the resiliency of natural communities, and how to manage them well beyond the borders of Tejon. Frank is also a Conservancy Board member, including Chair of the Stewardship Committee, and a colleague, friend, and mentor. He has been an influential “thought leader” for the Conservancy and a source of knowledge and support to me over the years. Thank you, Frank.

"I have been awed by wildflower displays that I didn’t know were possible."

As I said, this opportunity to experience the Ranch has itself shaped my life. I saw my first mountain lion in the wild at Tejon and now have seen eight. I also saw my first condor here, my first sighting was actually a group of 16 roosting birds in one tree, and I have been so close that I have heard the sound of the wind through their wings as they soared over my head. I have been awed by wildflower displays that I didn’t know were possible. I discovered salamanders under talus on the side of a 6,000-foot ridge! I have stood under some of the biggest oak trees in California. I have seen so many golden eagles that I’ve come to think of them as trash birds (just kidding!). Where do you get to see a hatch of baby horned lizards? Getting to see some of the rarest plants on earth as if they were common? Counting 50 Bullock’s orioles in one tree? Finding marine sedimentary rocks on top of the 6,800-foot Blue Ridge? Annually welcoming incredible, diverse migrations of birds? Spending countless hours by myself in one of the most amazing places on earth without seeing a soul or hearing any vehicles. Oh yes, I will miss Tejon!

"My greatest hope for the future is that the relationship between the Conservancy and Ranch develops into a strong and productive partnership that will fully achieve the potential of the Agreement."

But I don’t consider this a goodbye, rather an “until next time,” as I intend to stay involved with the Conservancy in some capacity—because I strongly believe in what we are trying to accomplish. It also feels like I’m leaving a part of me on the Ranch (do I need a permit for that?), so I’ll be back. My deepest thanks to everyone for making my time at the Conservancy so memorable. I hope that you continue to support the work of the Conservancy and I will see you again on the Ranch.

Research Update

By Conservancy Science Manager C. Ellery Mayence

Scientific research on Tejon Ranch rolls on despite the month of July arriving on the tail end of the summer’s first true heat wave. Whew – it’s been warm even at the higher elevations! Brandon Pratt (CSU Bakersfield) returns this month, for another round of physiological measurements on a suite of common chaparral plant species. His research has multiple objectives, one of which is understanding how chaparral species tolerate and recover from intense, prolonged drought. As one would expect, it takes more than a few good precipitation events for things to rebound.

Also on the Ranch in July is newcomer Daniel Baldassarre of Princeton University. Daniel is a postdoctoral research associate studying socio-ecological attributes of the phainopepla, a small songbird known for its unusual pattern of breeding twice each year in two different habitats. He spent the early part of the summer deep in the Mojave and decided to head north and west for cooler weather. Nicole Norelli, a research assistant in Tom Dudley’s Riparian Invasion Research Laboratory at UC Santa Barbara will revisit the Ranch in July to check on the fate of tamarisk beetles released in May. These little herbivores have been deployed as a biocontrol agent against the growing number of salt cedar shrubs turning up in riparian habitat on the San Joaquin Valley side of the Ranch.

In an effort to make sure Conservancy-supported research includes as many life forms as possible, James Parham of CSU Fullerton has the Caliente Creek drainage (northern fringe of Tejon Ranch) selected for upcoming legless lizard surveys. Had James requested Mike White to deploy cover boards before departing the organization after eight years of service, he would almost be assured at least one specimen for collection, as Mike had the magic touch with respect to cover board placement.

Lastly, and turning our attention from biotic to abiotic resources, geologist David Miller and Conservancy intern Ethan Sarti (both of CSU Bakersfield) will be canvasing the San Joaquin Valley side of the Ranch in search of exotic outcrops and exposures (and those elusive Mojave quartzites and paleo river channels) that provide clues into regional geologic history. As you can see, the recent bout of triple digit temperatures has in no way discouraged researchers from calling on Tejon, demonstrating the robust interest in the Ranch from the at-large scientific community.

David Miller with Geology students from CSU, Bakersfield. Photo by A.J. Alvarado.

A River Runs Through It: Ancient Landscapes of Tejon Ranch (Part 1)

By California State University Bakersfield Lecturer of Geology David Miller

In California, landscapes change fast. Mountains rise and fall; valleys subside and fill up with sediment in the twinkling of an eye, geologically speaking. The mountains we see today at Tejon Ranch were at the bottom of river valleys in the recent geologic past. The present drainages are relatively young features. We know that ancient rivers meandered across this landscape in the past because they left behind deposits of river gravels that are preserved in scattered remnants in the foothills of the Ranch.

Unconsolidated river gravels solidify into rocks called conglomerates. A conglomerate is a type of sedimentary rock made up of well-rounded, water-worn rock particles that are big: blueberry-, grape-, egg-sized or larger. Most of the valleys in California are filled with fine-grained and medium-grained sedimentary rocks such as shale and sandstone. Coarse-grained conglomerates are less common. Conglomerates are deposited in high energy environments and tend to be eroded before they can be preserved.

A student investigates conglomerates. Photo by A.J. Alvarado.

Conglomerates deposited by rivers, called fluvial conglomerates, have certain characteristics. Strata are channelized and crossbedded. Cyclic flood deposits are common. Large particles are well-rounded and tightly packed. They are imbricated - tilted in one direction by the force of water flow - and show crescentic surface fractures called “chattermarks” that are formed when large rocks roll along the bottom of river channels and bang into each other.

Consolidated river gravels. Photo by Mike White.

Fluvial conglomerates occur in discontinuous, scattered outcrops across southern California. They contain some of the best evidence of rivers, landscapes, and terrestrial ecosystems that existed before widespread mountain building, basin formation, and faulting related to the San Andreas and other faults began about 20 million years ago. Since 2015, California State University, Bakersfield geology students have been trying to reconstruct this ancient pre-San Andreas drainage system in a project called Late Cretaceous-Cenozoic Paleodrainage, Basin Boundary, and Landscape Evolution in Southern California or PBBLE for short. With support from the US Dept. of Education, National Science Foundation, CSUB Dept. of Geology, and the Tejon Ranch Conservancy, we have been collecting data on conglomerate composition, paleocurrent direction, and paleochannel orientation from dozens of conglomerate localities throughout southern California. We hope to use these data to reconstruct the hydrologic systems of the past. This will help us manage water resources in the future.

“It’s was like trying to do a 100-piece jigsaw puzzle with 10 pieces. But if you have just the right 10 pieces…some of the initial results surprised us”.

In June 2016 Conservancy Science Director Dr. Mike White and Tony Mattias of the Tejon Ranch Company brought several California State University, Bakersfield geology students from the PBBLE project and myself to the foothills around the Grapevine area. We came to sample the conglomerate deposits that line the margins of the San Joaquin Valley from the Grapevine to Comanche Point. Over 10 sq km of the Tehachapi foothills are underlain by these ancient river rocks. Conserved lands at Tejon have some of the best exposures. We had came to test a hypothesis.

Tejon Ranch is unique in that deeply buried rocks have been brought to the surface at some of the fastest uplift rates on the planet. These deeply buried rocks include the sediments at the bottom of the very deep San Joaquin Valley. Between the Grapevine and Comanche Point, these once deeply buried deposits are now exposed at the surface and include river and beach gravels that record changing landscapes over a 40 million year time span from Eocene to Miocene time.

Boulders of exotic quartzite in the Tecuya and Tejon Formations; crescentic chatter marks on large boulder.

The hypothesis we came to test was geologically reasonable: deposits of fluvial conglomerates exposed along the margins of the San Joaquin Valley were eroded from underlying rock and have not travelled far from their source. Some of the ancient river gravels on the Ranch contain boulders greater than 50 cm in maximum dimension. Having carried more than one boulder out of a steep Tejon Ranch drainage, I can attest that it takes a lot of energy to move a boulder. We expected that the boulders in the ancient river gravels would not have travelled far from their source and that they would have compositions similar to the rocks that make up the underlying Tehachapi Mountains. The Tehachapi Mountains are made of crystalline rocks that include granite-like plutonic rocks called tonalite and foliated metamorphic rocks called schist and gneiss. We expected to find a lot of boulders of tonalite, schist, and gneiss in the ancient river gravels.

Wading through the golden thatch on a beautiful day in June, we found excellent exposures of ancient river gravels in road cuts and stream cuts in the foothills. They contained abundant evidence of river transport: imbrication, chattermarks, channels eroded into underlying rock. We found boulders the size of basketballs deposited from rivers that flowed across the land 30 million years ago. What surprised us was the composition of the boulders. No schist. Most of the boulders we found were “exotic” to the local drainage basin. They had no known source in the local area. The boulders we found are made of a kind of rock called quartzite. Quartzite is a hard durable rock type that can survive transport for long distances. The quartzite boulders on Tejon Ranch include delicately cross-laminated violet, red, and raspberry-colored varieties, red and white striped “peppermint quartzite,” and “red-eye quartzite,” or red jasper-bearing quartz granule conglomerate.

None of these rocks can be found in or close to the Tehachapi Mountains or San Joaquin Valley. What they resemble most are rocks presently found in the Colorado Plateau and Death Valley area. Was that possible? Boulders as big as basketballs from Death Valley? In the San Joaquin? and at Tejon Ranch…Time for a new hypothesis?

Look for Part Two in our August eNews.

Pronghorn Fawning Update

Text and Photos By California Naturalist and Conservancy Docent Chris Gardner

On the Tejon Ranch, the pronghorn herd is both a curiosity and a throwback to earlier times when so many freely roamed the region. We usually get a lot of questions about them, especially how they are doing. There have been four Pronghorn fawns born each year for the past three years (2014, 2015, and 2016). During the Pronghorn Survey on June 13, 2017, six pronghorn fawns were observed together with 10 does. Very exciting!

Unlike deer on the Ranch, pronghorn fawns are completely unable to walk or stand in the first few days of life. Consequently, mothers hide their fawns, which are helpless against predators for about the first three weeks. After that, fawns are completely capable of running with the rest of the herd. It may seem an unusual survival technique, but it works…most of the time.

Meet California Naturalist and Docent Kate Allen

I have been involved with the docent program since shortly after the Conservancy was formed in 2008. I have helped with hikes, cross-ranch tours, and tours for local Audubon societies. My favorite activities have been stewardship work, pulling weeds and putting caps on hollow pipes to prevent birds from falling in. The pronghorn survey, done biweekly, is enjoyable because we monitor the pronghorn herd in the Antelope Valley part of the Ranch. Even when we don't see pronghorns, we see other wildlife, especially birds such as golden eagles, burrowing owls, and roadrunners. Sometimes we see coyotes and jack rabbits (though I'm still waiting to see a badger).

Preserving open space is a very important issue to me. With 240,000 acres, the Conservancy has a lot of open space to manage, and the volunteers help in this effort.

There is so much that is special about Tejon Ranch. Certainly the fact that there are four ecoregions contributes to it, and having all that area where you might see a mountain lion or an elk is another part. I just know that I fell in love with the Ranch the first time I ever visited, which was on a two-day tour arranged by the groups participating in the Ranch-wide Agreement.

Learn more about California ecology, or share your knowledge like California Naturalist and Conservancy Docent Kate Allen has, by becoming a Conservancy Volunteer. Contact Chris Fabbro at (661) 248-2400, x105 or by email: cfabbro@tejonconservancy.org.

Volunteers: Mark your calendar for a Volunteer Appreciation BBQ, Saturday, July 8th at Ft. Tejon State Historic Park.

Volunteers from all Conservancy events past and present are welcome to bring guests and enjoy the grounds of the park during the event. RSVP is required and a confirmation will be sent to registered participants a week prior. Sign up here and see you there!

The Lives of Birds

By Conservancy Biologist Ben Teton

As a camera trapper, I spend a lot of time watching birds flit around and fuss over each other, hour after hour, capture after capture. Just ask any of the beleaguered interns that are currently helping me wade through the tidal wave of video data generated by our trap-camera arrays on Tejon Ranch. They will tell you that birds, second only to ground squirrels, are the faunal group that most commonly triggers my cameras. These are typically not the most interesting captures, and furthermore are difficult to process as species identification and accurate counting is often impossible. Many of these videos are nothing more than a ball of feathers hurtling across a corner of the screen for a fraction of a second, followed by a short history of growing grass. There is, however, a rare occasion when one of these flighty creatures decides to stay put for a moment, providing a beautiful example of just how interesting and diverse Tejon Ranch's bird population is. This month I am sharing a series of videos that highlights the curious world of birds on the Ranch.

This is one of the few times I’ve ever captured CACOs on our trap-cameras. The ornery-looking fellow on the right side of the screen (orange tag #21) is the oldest wild male in the world. You get the sense the other birds respect the old-timer enough to stay out of his way.

Amphibious owl? It is interesting the see how comfortable this great horned owl appears waddling through the channel along El Paso Creek.

Here is a funny video of some young turkeys goofing off along the remote canyon bottom of El Paso Creek.

Here is a beautiful capture of a handsome young RT hawk enjoying a bath in Tunis Creek.

Bird count challenge! The first person who can accurately count and identify the birds in the following video wins a free regular membership to the Tejon Ranch Conservancy! Send your answer by July 10th to bteton@tejonconservancy.org, please put "Challenge Accepted!" in the subject line.

We have 68 wildlife cameras around Tejon Ranch which help our conservation work and provide a rare glimpse into our natural world. Please support the Conservancy's wildlife camera work.

Click here to learn more.

Thank you!

Tejon Ranch Conservancy E-News is written and produced by Conservancy staff and volunteers with the help of co-editors Tim Bulone, Paula Harvey and Susan Chaney. If you'd like to contribute to E-News please let us know.

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