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Tejon Ranch conservancy enews February 2018

On the Ranch

By Conservancy President & CEO Bob Reid

As I write this, we’re awaiting the arrival of a recovered and rehabilitated golden eagle back to Tejon. The weather is perfect, cold and drizzly, as biologists, vets, volunteers, and members gather to witness her release. It’s a great story of the Tejon Ranch Conservancy bringing people together in the name of wildlife and the cause of conservation. Central to this rescue was Ben Teton, Conservancy Wildlife Biologist who got the call about an injured eagle, raced to pick up the eagle, and literally mustered the troops in this rewarding story (we’ll feature this story with pictures in the March eNews and you can read about her release here).

This eagle story is a strong reminder that conservation is teamwork. Here at the Conservancy, our team includes biologists, botanists, geologists, graduate students, researchers, administrative support, citizen scientists, board members, volunteers, docent naturalists, Ranch Company staff and YOU… our members, donors, readers, and friends.

Speaking of friends, thank you to the many wonderful friends who are helping us meet our tour vehicle challenge grant. We are just $2,000 away from making our match! Please help us cross the finish line and more importantly, help bring more students from Bakersfield, Los Angeles, and surrounding communities to the Tejon Ranch. Please help make this happen (and if we meet our match in the next 60 days we’ll get another $5,000). Sure can’t beat that offer!!! Click here to help!

Stewardship, perhaps the most important role of a land trust, is described by Laura, Conservancy Stewardship Manager. It’s more than documentation (though quite important) but a lot of hard work on the ground addressing invasive plants and animals, seasonal grazing of cattle, and removing and modifying ranch infrastructure. Most important is maintaining compliance with the Ranchwide Management Plan’s 474 Best Management Practices (BMP’s), governing this incredibly complex working property.

Plants and animals know no boundaries. We’ve learned that recently with the attention paid to mountain lions, feared yet revered, they are our most charismatic Southern California species. Ben shares more thoughts about this enigmatic Tejon resident. Enjoy these Conservancy videos capturing native and natural undisturbed behavior.

Paula helps us understand the elusive behavior of the Kit Fox, hard to spot, but captivating as all foxes are. If you’ve ever spotted a Kit Fox, we’d love to hear from you! On the other hand, something easier to spot are graduate students and researchers using Tejon to learn and help us all understand how to manage wildlands. Mitchell Coleman, an intern from our Cal State Bakersfield partnership, tells us about his work with saltbrush. We wish him well as he pursues his academic studies!

Speaking of which, Paula tells us more about the new education effort sponsored by an amazing conservationist, whose very generous gift helped launch our initiative to reach out to more schools and encourage educators to use this landscape to enhance their curriculum with amazing Tejon Conservancy experiences.

It’s getting to be wildflower season. What better way to enjoy it than joining Chris and volunteering for wildflower viewing!

Conservation is both macro and micro. It’s helping to manage this significant landscape of 240,000 conserved acres. It’s staying on top of science and research, discovering new species and their relationship to the environment, and most of all, it’s just caring about what we do here at the Tejon Ranch Conservancy.

In this tenth year of existence, we’ve learned from our successes, from our failures and frustrations. And we also learned from all of you who visit, ask questions, take pictures, and hopefully leave inspired and with a memory of a place wild and free, a place saved from modernity, and something you’ll want to be part of.

As always…we look forward to seeing you on the Ranch!

Bob Reid

President and CEO

Photo by M. Prather

Conservancy Stewardship Programming

Story and Photos By Conservancy Stewardship Manager Laura Pavliscak

When we describe our three organizational programs to visitors, we often get questions about stewardship—what exactly is it? From our perspective, stewardship is where the rubber meets the road in conservation; where we take what we’ve learned scientifically and apply it to meaningful on-the-ground management that supports the complicated ways ecological systems function as well as the life forms they sustain.

Photo: Cattle grazing in Grapevine

This can entail things like removing invasive species to reduce both competitive exclusion of native species as well as their transformative ecological affects like increased fire and erosion. Changing the timing and intensity of livestock grazing, intentional planting of key species, and modifying infrastructure to favor species of concern are also simple ways to affect the way ecological systems function and to enhance their biological diversity.

Photo: Cattle outside Tunis exclosure

On Tejon, stewardship is doubly complicated because the property is both a large scale wild system as well as a working landscape. Cattle grazing, hunting, farming, mining, and future real estate developments are all interacting influences that affect how the natural systems work and who lives here. We have formed our programmatic work around these practices, relying on our in-house monitoring and research partnerships to inform adaptive management. To date, our stewardship program has focused less on active restoration of systems like planting shrubs, and more on passive work that takes advantage of existing management tools like controlled grazing.

Photo: Tamarisk beetle release in Tejon Canyon

Working with the cattle lessee and the property owner, we have developed infrastructure including miles of fencing and water resources to modify cattle grazing around sensitive resources like perennial creeks and wetlands. We have treated dozens of acres of invasive plant species like Saharan mustard, tamarisk, perennial pepperweed, and yellow star thistle, prioritizing weeds around rare plant populations and in areas with good chances of spreading. Our fabulous volunteers have walked miles of fencing, surveying for areas to modify passage for pronghorn and other wildlife along with identifying long sections of tangled barbed wire for removal. We have capped hundreds of open vertical pipes that pose a mortality threat to cavity-nesting birds.

Photo: Removing Arundo in Tejon Canyon

Monitoring both natural resources and land management practices is a huge part of what we do to better understand how these dynamic systems change over time and what we can do to enhance their conservation value. In addition to systematic vegetation and wildlife surveys, every year we devote much of the fall to a formal easement monitoring process across the property—one of our primary responsibilities as an accredited land trust. 2017 was our seventh year collecting photos and information on Tejon, which has offered us some unique perspectives in how resources and management practices change over time.

Photo: Tunis spring before fencing

It is also an important opportunity to work with the property owner, the Tejon Ranch Company (Company), to review the Best Management Practices (BMPs) and projects outlined in our Ranchwide Management Plan, a formal document agreed to in 2013 that provides a blueprint for the conservation management of the property. In it are 474 BMPs that the Company has committed to in protecting the natural resources on the Ranch. Check it out here.

Photo: Tunis spring after fencing

This year, we continue to expand our efforts in managing and monitoring Tejon’s phenomenal natural resources. Come out and join us! If you would like to get involved in any management or monitoring work, be in touch with the Conservancy and help us steward this extraordinary landscape.

Photo: Volunteers capping open pipes

Wildflower Viewing Update

By Conservancy Public Access/Education Manager Chris Fabbro

Public Access has a number of events this winter and spring, starting with wildflower guide training Sunday, February 25th. If you are interested in helping out with wildflower viewing in March (tentatively, all depends on the timing of the bloom), please email cfabbro@tejonconservancy.org. Volunteers will meet for a “dry run” of a typical day in the field to prepare for our largest public event of the year. If you are also interested in helping with other events such as community hikes, the February training is a good primer for how we operate. All volunteers interested in becoming a guide (wildflower or assisting with other tours) are welcome.

If you are interested in a more substantial volunteer commitment, consider becoming a Conservancy docent by participating in California Naturalist certification on the Ranch in mid-June. Details will be posted in next month’s newsletter.

In summer and fall of 2017, we hosted monthly member events. With spring approaching and the hills greening up, members will be notified of special springtime tours. One of the benefits of membership includes “early bird” registration for tours. Most fill up within a day of posting. Become a member for priority registration.

April 15-21, we are hosting a weeklong series of volunteer opportunities either on Tejon Ranch or with adjacent partners. Food and lodging are included whether you volunteer one day or one week. For more information, please contact Public Access/Education Manager Chris Fabbro at cfabbro@tejonconservancy.org.

Saltbush on Tejon Ranch

EPIC Saltbush Study on Tejon Part of Master’s Journey

By Mitchell Coleman, M.S., CSU Bakersfield Lecturer, Researcher

Greetings! I am writing this fresh off my master’s thesis defense of November 2017. The focus of my thesis was to elucidate factors affecting saltbush (Atriplex polycarpa (Torr.) S. Watson) seedling recruitment in the San Joaquin Valley of California. I specifically wanted to find out why saltbush seedlings do not seem to recruit in landscapes that are heavily invaded by non-native grasses. In the last 200 years, much of the valley’s native saltbush shrublands have been completely extirpated (approximately 5% of the original range remains today) to make room for ranching, agriculture, and later, urban and petroleum developments. Coinciding with this disturbance, much of the valley was invaded by highly-competitive, ecosystem-transforming annual grasses of Mediterranean origin. These grasses likely compete vigorously for water and nutrients in the soil during the wet season (typically January to March).

Relatively understudied is the role the grasses play in transforming the environment in ways that might affect recruitment of saltbush seedlings. When the grasses die during the dry season, the senesced shoots form residual dry matter (RDM), a structural modification to otherwise native habitat because it shades, and thus cools the soil. Throughout the San Joaquin Valley, it is now common to observe remnant stands of saltbush adjacent to large invasive grasslands. These shrublands do not seem to expand into the grassy areas, suggesting that the grasslands prevent the natural ecological succession of saltbush shrublands. I hypothesized that invasive annual grasses limit saltbush seedling recruitment due to both competition during the wet season and the structural modification of the RDM during the dry season. I predicted that this occurs due to alterations in soil moisture, soil temperature, and light penetration to the ground (saltbush has a high light and temperature-loving C4 photosynthetic pathway).

Mitchell Coleman

To assess my predictions, I conducted a number of experiments and observational studies. Overall, I found that the grass RDM limits saltbush germination to a greater degree than grass competition, apparently by reducing surface temperature and light levels of the soil. I also found that if saltbush seedlings successfully recruit amongst thick RDM, they have a greater chance of survival compared to established seedlings in the relatively open saltbush areas. The reason is that small herbivores (such as rabbits) occur in higher densities in native saltbush compared to invasive grasslands (grass RDM often forms thick and impenetrable barriers which impedes small mammal movement). Thus, saltbush seedlings that occur amongst thick RDM are more protected from herbivory (which is often deadly to young seedlings) relative to saltbush seedlings in open areas. This creates a seed-seedling mismatch wherein saltbush germination is significantly hampered in dense RDM areas, but seedlings which do germinate can survive at higher rates compared to seedlings in native saltbush habitat. Thus, combined land management practices which minimize the presence of RDM as an inhibitory factor (to increase saltbush germination) is important for saltbush seedling recruitment. Interestingly, once they are established they should form relatively open stands that are kept open by herbivores that inhabit the shrubs.

Saltbush at Comanche Point

A significant component of my thesis research was conducted at native saltbush stands in the Comanche Point region of Tejon Ranch, with the support of the Environmental Educational Partnership Impacting Colleges and Careers (EPIC). EPIC is a partnership developed between CSU Bakersfield and the Tejon Ranch Conservancy. The program provides CSUB students the opportunity to work with the Conservancy on research and/or land management initiatives during the summer in the form of internships.

The EPIC program was an enormous asset and my thesis benefited tremendously because of it. I received logistical support from Drs. Michael White and Ellery Mayence of the Conservancy, and their guidance greatly improved the quality of my research. The EPIC program also provided funds which I used to purchase the necessary research materials. Looking to the future, I look forward to continuing my relationship with the Tejon Ranch Conservancy on future research projects. I am very grateful for the opportunity to have been a part of EPIC!

Education Update

by Paula Harvey, Education Program Coordinator

In January, we had two professional development events for teachers of Frazier Mountain High School. We took science and art teachers across the Antelope Valley, up to Ray’s Perch in the high country. Then we visited two sites selected for student groups, and discussed ways the Conservancy could support their science and art programs. One group had the good fortune of seeing a herd of 21 pronghorn grazing as we drove by.

We participated in judging the Ridgeview High School science fair. Two groups of students used Conservancy camera trap data for their projects. Students talked with us about ways to advance their research further with the support of the Conservancy. We’re excited to help them in the coming year.

Photo: Science/FFA teacher Lee Bizzini, right, and art teacher Tim Ellis at Martinez Ridge, admiring the vast Antelope Valley before them.

February’s faculty field trip is set for February 14th. We have invited high school science and art teachers to come visit the San Joaquin side of the Ranch and network with colleagues. A similar trip is scheduled for April 12th. If you are a high school teacher interested in joining us for one of these valuable and fun professional development trips, please contact me at pharvey@tejonconservancy.org.

Photo: Science teachers Lee Bizzini, center, and Brianna White, right, talk with Conservancy Docent and California Naturalist Reema Hammad about these mortar holes near Ray’s Perch

Photo: Science teacher Brianna White, left, and art teacher Tim Ellis, right, study the interior terrain with Docent Reema Hammad at Ray’s Perch.

Outdoor STEAM Activity - “Mini Bioblitz”

Purpose: Students determine how many species of life they can find in five minutes.

Materials: Students need only to have their nature journal and pencil, however, if you want to increase the rigor of the activity, you might want additional materials.

Possible materials:

1. Nature Journal and pencil (required)

2. Hand Lens or magnifier app such as Big Magnify

3. Colored pencils

4. Field Guides

5. Smart phones and/or tablets

6. Apps such as iNaturalist, Merlin Bird ID, Insect Orders, Southern California Wildflowers

7. Camera

Procedure: At the most basic level, students can simply walk around and count, using tally marks. Encourage them to create categories for their counts.

To extend the activity and increase academic rigor, eliminate the time limit and add the additional tasks of writing detailed descriptions, making sketches of the life forms, and identifying them (perhaps at a later time).

To further increase the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math) value, students can use their smart phones and various identification apps, make their observations, and draw what they see, writing detailed descriptions in their nature journals, They then use their field notes, do further research, and create a presentation poster with photos, labeled drawings, and names of each identified species.

Variation: Give each group a one-meter length of string. Have them tie the ends together. Find a plot of grass and create a circle with the string. Students study and catalogue every living and non-living thing within the circle.

Important: Give students an opportunity to write a reflection in their Nature Journal at the end of each activity.

Tejon Ranch Ecology Seminar Series (TRESS) – a monthly field-based seminar delivering in-depth scientific content across a range of topics relevant to Tejon. The inaugural TRESS has been rescheduled for February 17th!

By Senior Ecologist, C. Ellery Mayence

For those individuals that registered for the January 20th TRESS that was canceled – your registration fee will apply to the February 17th event or any upcoming fee-based Conservancy event. The bulk of the content of this inaugural seminar will be landscape scale processes and forces that shape what we see and experience on Tejon, primarily from a natural communities perspective.

We’ll talk in depth about weather and climate and how latitude, elevation, mountainous terrain, and proximity to the Pacific Ocean influences short- and long-term temperature and precipitation patterns (which in part shape the Ranch’s biotic communities). We’ll also touch on soil characteristics, aspect, and the regional importance of Tejon Ranch with respect to wildlife ecology and native plant conservation.

The current plan is to visit the Antelope Valley (Mojave Desert side of Tejon Ranch) and work our way from east to west stopping frequently and discussing the various ecological elements we’re likely to encounter including but not limited to: different plant communities, perennial versus annual plant species, drought tolerance, seed production and dormancy, and the role non-native plant and animal species have in changing how natural communities function from an ecological perspective.

Group size will be limited to 15 participants to minimize vehicle needs and maintain intimacy. Participants should self-cater lunch and dress for being outside for the majority of the day. After expressing interest – individuals will be asked to register via a forthcoming link. Participants will receive additional information a few days prior the event. Science background is not required. Duration: 8 hours. Fee: $20. Please contact Ellery at emayence@tejonconservancy.org for more information.

Mountain Lions of Tejon

By Conservancy Wildlife Biologist Ben Teton

As Southern Californians, we have a unique relationship with mountain lions (Felis concolor), as the expansion of human development in our area continues to push deeper into this apex predator’s historical range. While certain human-cougar conflicts persist throughout the state, our community has chosen to embrace our reclusive neighbor to a degree that distinguishes us from other areas of the country where lions are viewed only as a dangerous pest, to be feared and depredated. It may come as a surprise that Los Angeles is one of only two major cities in the world where large predatory cats still occur (the other is Mumbai, India, where leopards are known to range). What may be even more surprising is the extent to which the greater Los Angeles community has chosen to embrace these wild creatures, sharing their parks and recreation areas. Ever since National Geographic photographer Steve Winter captured the now famous image of celebrity cougar P-22 walking beneath the Hollywood sign in Griffith Park, interest and support of conservation efforts surrounding these cougars and their environment has skyrocketed. In recent months, almost four million dollars have been raised by Save LA Cougars from Southern California donations to build a wildlife crossing in Liberty Canyon in Los Angeles County. This overpass would greatly improve habitat connectivity in the area by helping lions and other wildlife safely traverse the 10-lane, 101 freeway, that currently exists as a deadly barrier to movement between open space areas in Los Angeles. These recent efforts represent tremendous conservation potential moving forward and speak to the spirit of conservation that is clearly alive within our Southern California community However, the long-term health of our mountain lion populations will require even more.

Steve Winters famous image of male cougar P-22 in Griffith Park. ©SteveWinter

Large predators, including mountain lions, not only require large swathes of protected wilderness to hunt, mate, and raise young, they require a network of open space corridors between these large protected areas, such that their populations can maintain healthy gene flow through generational emigration. As viable habitat for these creatures becomes ever more scarce, and mountain lions are forced deeper into rural-urban interface areas where many Californians live and work, human lion conflicts can, and do, occur. For the llama farmer who relies on the security of her crias for her family’s livelihood, the mountain lion represents more than an indicator of ecosystem health and an icon of wild freedom in nature. It is important for us as conservationists to recognize that there are real consequences for those folks whose pastureland and livestock overlaps with the territory of these powerful predators and it is important that we consider the welfare of these communities, for any lasting conservation strategy to be effective.

Essentially all wild species impacted by human activity and loss of habitat require some level of management to maintain the health of their population and the overall balance of what remains of their ecosystem. Hunting advocates in California often assert that mountain lions are responsible for a crash in deer populations throughout the state over the last fifty years. While this claim remains unproven, it is important that we better understand whether these population trends represent natural fluctuations in predator-prey dynamics or a systemic imbalance that requires intervention.

The Lotka-Volterra predator-prey model. This graph shows the cyclical relationship predicted by the model for hypothetical predator and prey populations.

What is certain, is that large, interconnected swathes of protected open-space are essential for the survival of both mountain lions and their prey, and the more we can learn about these species, the better equipped we will be to ensure the long-term vitality California’s wildlife and the ecological systems that support them. This is why the conserved lands at Tejon are such a critical piece of the wildlife conservation puzzle in California, as we represent over 270,000 acres of viable habitat as well as the primary open space corridor connecting the Los Padres and Angeles National Forests with the Sequoia and Southern Sierra. While the Tejon Ranch Company currently prohibits mountain lion specific research on Tejon Ranch, the Tejon Ranch Conservancy is currently engaged in a range of ecological research and habitat restoration initiatives that directly contribute to the conservation of mountain lion habitat and the natural ecology of California’s wildlands.

The following compilation features camera-trap highlights of mountain lions on Tejon Ranch, captured over the last two years. It features lions at every stage of life, both male and female, young and old. These recordings present us with just a glimpse into the quiet world of these elusive creatures, as they go about their everyday lives, much in the same way they have for thousands of years. On Tejon Ranch, so may it be for thousands more…

I would like to take this opportunity to thank our stalwart team of video processing technicians for their contributions to this project, as it is important to note that for every beautiful cougar highlight, one of our poor technicians was forced to wade through 500+ consecutive captures of lazy cows napping and frenetic squirrels skittering in front of my camera trap sensor. If there are any brave souls interested in joining this heroic team of trap-data processors, please contact Ben Teton (bteton@tejonconservancy.org) for details.

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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 an article to E-News please let us know.

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