Tejon RancH Conservancy eNews November 2017

On the Ranch

Recently we learned of the death of P-41, a resident mountain lion (and frequent media star) of the Verdugo range in heavily populated, and fragmented, Southern California. Mountain lion survival in fringe urban areas has become a serious concern, as habitat fragmentation is a threat to many species’ survival. Preserving habitats, not just species, is the foundation of modern conservation.

Preserving un-fragmented habitat was one of the key drivers in conserving 240,000 acres of Tejon Ranch, a rich biodiversity hot spot. The mountain lions of Tejon are not faced with the same challenges as P-41, as they and hundreds of other species, large and small, can thrive in this relatively undisturbed environment. This un-fragmented habitat also offers continuity, another vital trait of healthy ecosystems.

In this issue, Ellery writes about ecological continuity at Tejon. Ellery also works closely with the many researchers who visit and study Tejon, and provides organizational continuity, navigating between the Conservancy and the Tejon Ranch Company. Understanding more about Tejon drives the Conservancy, and Laura shares our preliminary efforts learning more about invertebrates on the property and why we believe it is a priority to do so.

The continuity of research is another trait of good conservation. Ben tells us more about the continuing feral pig work funded by USDA at Tejon, the only West Coast site within this important national study, and shares his experiences at the annual Wildlife Society Conference, where he made a well-received presentation about this work. Chris’ passion is connecting people to the land. He offers a glimpse at the ways he connects with other organizations neighboring Tejon and at the opportunities to connect with high schools and colleges in Kern County and beyond. His plans for tours, hikes, and activities are growing, as are their popularity. Join us to discover the benefits of membership!

As always, we hope you enjoy this short eNews visit to Tejon, and like learning from our Docent Naturalist Paula about the many interesting critters out there. We hope you will also savor the passing of seasons, the chill in the night air, and joining together to give thanks and celebrate the warmth of family and friends this Thanksgiving. We certainly are thankful for you, our friends, members, supporters, and volunteers, who share our passion for this iconic California landscape, and for all natural lands, whether conserved or needing to be. It’s our gift to the future.

See you on the Ranch!

Bob Reid

President and CEO

Cover and Badger Photo by Scot Pipkin

Tejon Ranch - One Contiguous Expanse of Land

By C. Ellery Mayence, Senior Ecologist and Science Program Manager

Tejon Ranch exhibits many qualities that raise eyebrows when spoken of – with one such quality simply being that the Ranch is one contiguous expanse of land, rather than numerous spatially independent or fragmented parcels. In conservation biology, the concepts of connectivity and corridors dutifully receive a significant amount of attention, both academically and in the popular press. Equally as important, however, but less frequently discussed, is that of contiguity.

Chaparral is one dominant type of landscape on Tejon Ranch.

A contiguous landscape is one that exists uninterrupted over a given areal expanse – with larger expanses (i.e., landscapes) tending to support a greater number of habitat types. Clearly, important to this discussion is the notion of scale. It is common for specific habitat types to be poorly connected at the landscape scale, such as if they are widely dispersed in a mosaic of other, more dominant habitat types. For example, spring or wetland habitat within an expanse of grassland can be effectively isolated (geographically speaking) within an otherwise contiguous landscape. Barriers to connectivity exist in many forms (biotic or abiotic) and range widely across taxonomic groups (i.e., plants, mammals, birds). That is, a barrier that limits seed dispersal by a plant may have a negligible effect on bird migration. Again, scale is important. Corridors represent ways of connecting geographically isolated patches of habitat (though not generally wetlands) and can be natural, or in highly fragmented landscapes, have an anthropogenic (human) basis.

Grasslands are another dominant type of habitat.

Tejon Ranch is an excellent example of landscape contiguity, both geographical and/or spatial, in that it is essentially one uninterrupted (422 square mile- or 270,000-acre) parcel. Across this landscape is a multitude of habitats, with grassland, oak woodland, and chaparral representing the dominant types. Tejon’s immense size and associated contiguousness are important for a range of ecological concepts and/or processes. Some examples include minimum range size requirements of apex predators (e.g., mountain lions); range overlap as it applies to interactions, such as gene flow among closely related yet distinct taxa (e.g., legless lizards); stopover points for far-ranging seasonal migrants, such as Swainson’s hawks; and pollination and seed dispersal for most plant species.

Oak woodlands on Tejon Ranch are also a dominant habitat.

Clearly, and as previously noted, a landscape’s connectivity is largely dependent on the species or taxon of interest – and, of course, the extent of fragmentation. As landscapes become more fragmented, they effectively become less contiguous and more poorly connected. Species with smaller minimum range sizes tend to be less affected by fragmentation than those with larger area requirements. If the Ranch were more fragmented (less contiguous), managing for particular biological resources would be considerably more challenging. As it stands, Tejon’s 240,000 contiguous acres of conserved land support a host of species that, in more fragmented landscapes, are becoming increasingly threatened, rare, or in some cases extinct.

So, when thinking about Tejon Ranch, actually, better yet, when visiting the Ranch on a future Public Access outing, think about its immense size; it is the largest contiguous private property in California, representing 0.25 percent of the state’s land area). Then consider how important this is for biodiversity conservation in a working-lands setting.


How Long Do They Live?

By Paula Harvey, California Naturalist and Conservancy Docent

Ever wonder about the life spans of the mammals on the Ranch? Here are a few answers.

Cervus canadensis nelsoni, aka the Rocky Mountain elk, lives, on average, 10 to 13 years.

The Pronghorn fawn, at left, Antilocapra americana, will likely live to be 10.

Black bears (Ursus americanus) are among the longest lived species on the Ranch at an average life span of 30 years.

Odocoileus hemionus californicus, aka mule deer, typically live to be 9 to 11 years old.

This Puma concolor, or mountain lion, may live as long as 13 years or as few as 8.

If this bobcat (Lynx rufus) keeps hunting this well, he may see his 12th birthday. The unfortunate California ground squirrel (Spermophilus beecheyi) likely did not attain its full 6 year life span.

Nine to 10 years is the average life span of Taxidea taxus, the American badger.

Coyotes (Canis latrans) generally live 6 to 8 years.

On average, the life span of Sus scrofa, aka the invasive wild pig, is 9 to 10 years.

Five or 6 years is how long most San Joaquin kit foxes (Vulpes macrotis mutica) survive.

Just 2 to 5 years is the average Lepus californicus’ life span. It is also known as the black-tailed jackrabbit.

Even shorter is the life span of the desert cottontail (Sylvilagus audobonii) at 2 to 3 years

A white-tailed antelope ground squirrel (Ammospermophilus leucurus) lives 2 to 4 years. Below, a list of the known mammal species on Tejon Ranch and their respective life spans.

Photo by Natalie Bruno

Bugs, Biodiversity, and the Big Picture

By Conservancy Stewardship Manager Laura Pavliscak

While we celebrate the extraordinary diversity of all life forms on the Ranch, we have a much better, albeit evolving, understanding of some taxonomic groups than others. On Tejon, to date, we are aware of approximately 54 mammals (30 percent of all state species), 45 reptiles and amphibians (18 percent), over 260 birds (40 percent), and around 1,000 plants (15 percent). The vast majority of these organisms are native to California. This is impressive biodiversity, especially when considering that Tejon Ranch only encompasses 0.25 percent of the state’s total area.

California is known as one of the most biodiverse states in the union, largely attributed to the incredible variety in geography and climate. We have both the highest and lowest elevations in the continental U.S., with biotic regions ranging from temperate rainforest to arid deserts, plus about 840 miles of coastline. Tejon Ranch is exemplary of this geographic variety, seated at the dynamic juncture of four unique regions: the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Mojave Desert, Transverse Ranges, and Central Valley. No wonder the biological diversity here is so amazing!

Taxonomic groups that we still know little about are all things invertebrate – insects, spiders, snails, worms, and more. While less glorified than the charismatic bears, eagles, and oaks that inhabit the Ranch, invertebrates are the unsung heroes that make plant and animal communities thrive. From pollination to nutrient cycling, and from forage to foragers, invertebrates orchestrate the ecological processes that direct the vital functioning of these complicated wild landscapes. Mosquitos and houseflies may give this important group a bad rap, but without the pollination power of invertebrates, we would go hungry, as would our favorite birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. It is one of many key ecological functions they perform, largely unnoticed and underappreciated. In evidence of this, we don’t have accurate estimates for the number of invertebrate species – on Tejon Ranch, in California, in our country, or across the globe.

We do know that the diversity of invertebrates is unbelievably large – just the number of beetles in California is thought to be around 8,000 species. This high diversity has a lot to do with the unique niches in which many invertebrates have evolved, often associated with specific organismal relationships. Knowing very little about who exists and their specific ecological roles has broad conservation impacts, as invertebrates are among the least recognized and protected organisms.

Of the approximately 600-plus bird species in the state, 33 of these have threatened and/or endangered status protections under state and/or federal law – that’s about 6 percent. With plants, about 122 of approximately 6,500 species, or 2 percent, are protected. Mammals, and reptiles and amphibians have the highest ratio of protected species at about 14 percent (25 in 181 and 34 in 250 species, respectively).

How many invertebrate species are protected, you ask? Although we don’t have a good understanding of how many invertebrates exist in California today, we know it is a large number. Yet only 35 species have protected status. For beetles alone, that is five in an estimated 8,000 species, or 0.06 percent, with protected status. In short, we have a long way to go before we can understand and value these organisms that provide the critical ecosystem services we rely on for our well-being and that of the landscapes we love.

One can expect with the extraordinary geographic variety we find on the Ranch, along with the impressive numbers of species we see here among other taxonomic groups, that we likely have an inordinately high number of invertebrate species on Tejon. We are doing our best to learn more about them.

Over the last few years, we have partnered with the Lorquin Entomological Society from Los Angeles to try to better understand who lives here. With this passionate group of enthusiasts and professionals, we have dramatically expanded the number of species documented on the property and are beginning to fill in a tiny sliver of the complicated ecological picture these exceedingly important life forms play. You can check out some of their observations on our project pages in iNaturalist .

Stay tuned for more reports from the field as we explore the Ranch’s buzzing corners. Many thanks to the incredibly generous contributions of time, expertise, and enthusiasm of Lorquin members!

Welcome Hugh McMahon, Our Newest Board Member!

Hugh McMahon joins the Tejon Ranch Conservancy Board, replacing Gary Hunt, as one of the four Tejon Ranch Company representatives. “Gary Hunt has made an outstanding contribution over many years to the conservation of Tejon Ranch and we will miss him,” says Conservancy Board Chair Joel Reynolds. “But Hugh is an experienced leader within the Tejon Ranch Company and we look forward to working with him to further the Conservancy’s mission and strategic goals.”

Hugh is Executive Vice President of Commercial and Industrial Real Estate for Tejon Ranch Company. He is responsible for the development of commercial and industrial properties at the Tejon Ranch Commerce Center and oversees the Company’s oil, gas, and mineral interests, as well as all easements on the Ranch. Hugh began his career with the Ranch in 2001, having formerly served as Director of Finance for Castle and Cooke’s mainland operations headquartered in Bakersfield, California.

He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in economics from California State University, Fresno, and received an MBA from California State University, Bakersfield. He is also a graduate of Stanford University’s Financial Management Program and Harvard University’s Real Estate Management Program.

Photo by Scot Pipkin
A recent tour group at Tejon Ranch. Photo by Chris Fabbro

Connecting People to the Resource

By Conservancy Public Access/Education manager Chris Fabbro

The primary purpose of Public Access and Education is supporting the connection between nature and humans. This takes many forms – and the Conservancy’s departments are structured accordingly, with Research and Stewardship also being key components of this connection. We, as staff, always need to keep in mind that the Conservancy is not an island, and that our interconnections with existing and new partners improve our ability to serve local and scientific communities, as well as serving the resources of the Ranch.

One of my first goals when I started working at the Conservancy in June was to look at pooling resources beyond our organization as a foundation for rebuilding our Public Access and Education Program. A number of local cooperators indicated that they had not been on the Ranch, so this past summer we offered tours to government and nonprofit land management agencies. This was a first step in brainstorming ways to collaborate and enhance public programming for all concerned. Staff from several State Parks, including Hungry Valley and Fort Tejon, as well as from neighboring Wind Wolves Preserve, joined Conservancy staff and docents for cross-ranch tours. From this, we have started planning public events co-hosted by the Conservancy and partners, starting with a State Parks co-hosted meteor shower event in December (more on that in the next newsletter).

Similarly, on the education front, we have initiated contact with several Kern County high school science departments; a science teacher tour is planned for early November. We have also offered several Member Tours this summer and fall to keep donors connected, and will continue that effort this coming spring. A volunteer training (and refresher), and separate California Naturalist training, are both planned for 2018, plus additional volunteer appreciation activities to complement the annual volunteer picnic.

If you are interested in community activities as either a participant or volunteer, please contact cfabbro@tejonconservancy.org for information on upcoming opportunities.

Photo by Willie Burnside

The California Naturalist Series

By Paula Harvey, California Naturalist and Conservancy Docent

COYOTE, Canis latrans

Photo by Chris Garner

It is rare to catch more than a glimpse of a coyote on the Ranch. Most often, it sees us first and runs for its life, running up to 40 mph. But recently I saw a pair that lingered nearby and I was able to get a good look at these beautiful canids.

Unlike domestic dogs, coyotes hold their ears erect and carry their tails downward, below their backs, when they run.

Their tails are long, about half their body length. Coat color varies depending on habitat. In the desert, they tend to be light gray, red, or fulvous (tawny). The fur consists of both short, soft under fur, interspersed with long, coarse guard hairs. Coyotes range in size depending on their location. Desert coyotes are smaller than mountain coyotes. Overall, males range from 18 to 44 pounds and females range from 15 to 40 pounds.

Coyotes are extremely adaptable, contributing to their success despite campaigns to eliminate and control their populations.

They live in either small family units or in temporary packs of unrelated individuals, such as bachelor males, non-reproductive females, and subadults. Their range is around 10 to 12 miles. Mostly solitary hunters, coyotes prey on small mammals. However, when hunting larger game such as deer, they form cooperative packs. Although 90 percent carnivorous, coyotes also consume vegetable matter.

Photo by Chris Gardner

Coyotes are monogamous. During estrus, as many as seven males may court a female for up to a month, but once she has chosen her mate, the others will leave. Then the pair will either construct a den or clean out an abandoned burrow of another animal, such as a badger. The pair will stay together for several years. They mate between January and March.

Gestation is approximately 63 days and the litter size averages around six pups. The pups are altricial (requiring care and feeding) and completely dependent upon milk for their first 10 days. They open their eyes after 10 days and become more mobile. The den is abandoned by June or July, when the pups follow their parents while hunting and patrolling their territory. Offspring may leave their families as early as August, but can stay together longer.

A young coyote. Photo by Chris Garner

Coyotes are known for being vocal (Canis latrans means “barking dog”). Four basic vocalizations are: howling, which communicates the coyotes’ presence to others; yelping, usually heard from the young while playing; barking, a threat behavior used to protect territory or a kill; and huffing, used to quietly call pups.

The lifespan of coyotes is around 10 years in the wild. They can live up to 18 years in captivity.

Even though coyotes will kill livestock for food, they do not live on domesticated animals. Studies indicate their principle diet is composed of mice, rabbits, and ground squirrels and other small rodents, as well as insects, reptiles, fruits, and berries. They are essential to the control of destructive rodents. Considered non-game animals, coyotes can be hunted at any time, with a hunting license. While the government has spent millions of dollars to control them, this wily predator, known as “the trickster” in Native American folklore, has increased in number and adapted to other than its preferred habitat of open grasslands.

Interesting facts:

• Coyotes and badgers have been known to form mutualistic relationships, assisting each other in digging up rodent prey. Some coyotes have been observed laying their heads on their badger companions without protest from the badgers.

• They can jump horizontal distances of up to 13 feet and leap over fences as high as 8 feet.

• Coyotes can hybridize with both domestic dogs and wolves. A coyote-dog mix is called a “coydog.”

• Only 5 to 20 percent of coyote pups survive their first year.

• A coyote is more afraid of you than vice versa!

Dispatches from Albuquerque: The Wildlife Society Conference 2017

By Conservancy Wildlife Biologist Ben Teton

This has been an exciting year for wildlife research on Tejon Ranch. From volunteer-based pronghorn antelope population surveys, to long-term academic research into the interactive effects of species loss and climate change, the Tejon Conservancy has been successful in opening the Ranch to a wide range of wildlife-related research initiatives. In addition to facilitating research from citizen scientists and academics, the Tejon Conservancy continues to invest in our own internal research that will help us address concerns specific to the conservation values of Tejon.

Over the last few years, much of that effort has focused on issues related to invasive wild pigs (Sus scrofa) and their impact to the native ecology of Tejon Ranch. By partnering with USDA APHIS and their National Feral Swine Damage Management Plan in 2014, we were not only able to help facilitate the effort to control invasive wild pigs at the national level, but also develop our own companion studies that address key concerns specific to wildlife management on Tejon Ranch. As anyone with experience in formal research science can tell you, seeing through the full scientific method from data collection, to data processing, to analysis, and finally to write-up and publication, can often feel painfully slow and arduous. So it was with great satisfaction that we were able to formally present the preliminary results of our research for the first time during the 2017 Wildlife Society Conference held last month in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The Wildlife Society Conference has been held annually for the last 24 years and is one of the largest and most noted gatherings of wildlife professionals anywhere in the world. This year it boasted over 950 presentations and educational/professional development opportunities. With a plenary theme of “Wildlife Conservation: Crossroads of Cultures,” it focused on the wide diversity of backgrounds and perspectives that individuals and organizations bring with them as “cultural values and challenges that comprise our everyday engagement in wildlife conservation.”

Contributed papers and presentations ranged in subject from Wildlife Disease and Toxicology to Conservation Communication. Throughout the five-day event, it was both humbling and inspiring to see so many brilliant wildlife professionals, with such a diverse range of backgrounds and expertise, all coming together to share ideas and promote wildlife conservation.

We presented our contributed paper, “Identifying Unique Individuals Using Natural Pelt Patterns to Estimate Population Abundance with Mark-Resight Models,” as part of the Biometrics and Population Modeling group. This paper focuses on a method of identifying individuals within a population using only natural markers visible from camera trap photo data. These identifiable individuals can be used to estimate a range of population parameters without the expense and liability associated with traditional methods that rely on trapping and tagging. Our research uses invasive wild pigs on Tejon Ranch to demonstrate the efficiency and relative effectiveness of a method that could potentially be exported to other species that have traditionally been considered indistinguishable from camera trap photo data alone. We hope that this method will help land and wildlife managers more effectively control wild pigs and their associated ecological disturbance, not only across the Tejon Ranch, but throughout the ever-expanding range of this dangerous invasive species.

This presentation was well-attended and the subject of invasive wild pigs was represented in numerous other talks and presentations. This is a clear indication that this growing threat to our native ecology is being taken seriously throughout the United States and beyond. The Tejon Conservancy looks to continue its role as a leader in invasive wild pig research as we expand our wildlife programs into 2018.

Below, two wildlife camera videos capture invasive wild pigs on portions of Tejon Ranch. To learn more about wild pig research and management on Tejon Ranch watch this documentary.

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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