Tejon Ranch Conservancy eNews Fall/Winter 2020

On the Ranch

By Operations Director Tim Bulone

You don’t have to look very far to see how challenging life has become. Things we took for granted not so long ago, going to the movies, getting together with friends, worshiping in a church, temple, or mosque, are not simple matters any longer.

The nature of our world may have changed, but definitely not the world of nature. I take tremendous solace in that. I know that when autumn has come to the Tejon Ranch, you can see your breath in the high country and the leaves have begun to turn. There is an inherent beauty that nature knows what it is doing and just does it.

But challenges are a part of our lives and we learn to adapt to new circumstances. When our Education Coordinator Paula Harvey became unable to host students and teachers on the Ranch, she adapted by preparing remote learning lessons in nature journaling. And when COVID prevented people from seeing spring’s bounty of wildflowers, Public Access Assistant Reema Hammad captured them on video. She’s currently working on a virtual tour of one of her favorite hiking spots.

But adaptation is not new for us, it is interwoven into our history. On a bright day in May of 2008, then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger came to Tejon Ranch to honor a new idea in conservation, an agreement that saw the Tejon Ranch Company working with environmental groups to conserve some 90% of the historic Ranch in perpetuity.

“I’m thrilled to be here because of the historic conservation agreement that illustrates something that I have been talking about now since I got elected governor in 2003 and that is that we can do both, protect the environment and protect the economy at the same time, and the Tejon Ranch is a perfect example of that.

“I mean, let’s face it; environmentalists and land developers usually don’t get along very well. They do a lot of arguing and fighting. The problem is that, as their battles play out, each side gets bloodied, costs skyrocket, and no one feels good after the outcome. But when forward-thinking people, like the people that are standing here with me today, are willing to sit down and make something positive happen, those old battle lines can be terminated.”

And that experiment continues today. It wasn’t easy to put together and it continues to be a work in progress. But as our current Board Chair Joel Reynolds said on that same sunny day, “All of us consider this agreement on the future of Tejon Ranch one of the great conservation achievements in California history. This agreement is the Mt. Everest of conservation in California and I’ll tell you why. Tejon Ranch is the crossroads of biodiversity, a Garden of Eden unparalleled in California.

“We are preserving forever, in one piece, the junction between no less than four major California ecosystems, from the wildflower fields and native grasslands of the Mojave Desert and Antelope Valley, up to the ancient woodlands of giant oaks and pines in the rugged Tehachapi Mountains, which join the Coastal Range to the southern Sierra Nevada and sloping down again to the level grasslands of the San Joaquin Valley, the last remaining natural habitat around the southern rim of the valley. For species, for habitat, for future generations in California, this is an extraordinary result, a once-in-a-lifetime achievement in wildlife conservation.”

Since that day dozens of researchers from colleges and universities far and wide have done studies here. People from all walks of life have experienced the unending beauty and intrinsic value of protected landscapes. Students and teachers alike have come to learn in the living laboratory that Tejon Ranch provides. And maybe most importantly, the Conservancy’s work to restore habitat means Tejon Ranch will be a refuge far into the future for all the species that call Tejon home. That is something to be thankful for.

Photo by Mitchell Coleman

Eagle Scout Candidate Savanna Meyer Has Plans

By Conservation Science Manager Mitchell Coleman

In continuation of the burgeoning partnership between the Conservancy and Scouts BSA, we are pleased to announce an in-progress Eagle Scout project. Savanna Meyer from Troop 2119 is the Eagle-to-Be. Savanna will be one of Kern County’s first female Eagle Scouts since the Scouts BSA started including females last year. She is the first Eagle candidate in her troop. The goal of her Eagle project is to construct a primitive campground and interpretive hiking trail on the Conservancy’s Panofsky-Wilson Preserve, just north of Tejon Ranch.

Earlier this month, we (virtually) sat down with Savanna to learn more about her background and what she hopes to learn from the project:

Q: How old are you?

A: I am 18 years old.

Q: What appealed to you about Scouting?

A: I have been in Scouting since I was 5, most of that time having been in the Girl Scouts. Around the time I received my Girl Scout Gold Award, the Boy Scouts was just starting to accept female members. I joined the Scouts BSA out of interest, but never intended to go for an Eagle since I was already close to turning 18. However, when it was announced that incoming Scouts would be granted an extension for Eagle projects, I started planning right away. My family and Troop are very supportive of my goal and I am in this 100%.

Right: The Project will include an Interpretive Trail looping through the Preserve.

This project will teach me a lot about the logistics and tact of leadership

Q: Are you the first female Eagle candidate in your region?

A: I am definitely the first in my troop, and one of the first in Kern County, but am not sure beyond that.

Q: How does it feel to get so much help from your family and from other scouts?

A: I would say that it is overwhelming—in a good way. Everyone is so supportive and wants to help. Members of Troop 2119 and our partner Troop 47 are like a small family. Everyone pitches in for each other’s projects, and the commitments are always leveled out so that no one goes without any help. It is lovely that my problem is not a lack of support, but how to ideally leverage that surplus of support to complete the project. The key is finding a way to make it all work with everyone’s schedules.

Q: Is this the most difficult thing you have ever undertaken?

A: Project wise, this is a pretty big deal for me. I would say yes, it is the most difficult. There have been many projects I have participated in with an advisory or supportive role, but I have never been the main project manager. Nothing I have ever done has ever required this much planning and coordination. It is hard to step into the management role!

Right: Site of primitive campground.

Part of Savanna's Proposal

Q: In what ways will completing this project change your life?

A: This project will teach me a lot about the logistics and tact of leadership: how to get everyone on the same page, how to effectively communicate with others, and how to ensure the right resources are in place ahead of time. It will give me something to look back on and be proud of. I have learned a lot through the Scouting program, I always tell people about how much I have learned. I only started with Scouts BSA in the last two years and I already feel like I’m a different person.

Q: What careers or fields interest you? Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

A: I am really interested in studying psychology. For a long time, my goal was to join the FBI in the Behavioral Analysis Unit, but lately I’ve switched to thinking about teaching English in places like Japan or Southeast Asia. That would be really cool.

We at the Conservancy are really looking forward to seeing the results of Savanna’s Eagle project!

Sign to be installed as part of the project.

Right: Caliente Creek passes through the Preserve.

Photo by Mitchell Coleman

A Remarkable Body of Work

A review of scientific research accomplished on Tejon

By Conservation Science Director Emeritus Michael White, Ph.D.

One of the things I have been doing with the Conservancy lately is gathering together all of the publications, theses, and dissertations that have been produced from research projects that the Conservancy has facilitated at Tejon Ranch.

Even though many of the projects were conducted when I was still at the Ranch, I had never taken the time to pull it all together. Wow! What a remarkable body of work has been produced in a little over 10 years. The conserved lands at Tejon Ranch have proved to be an incredible landscape in which to study diverse, relevant conservation issues and to train our future conservationists, resource managers, and scientists. Forty-six students received their graduate degrees based on work conducted at Tejon Ranch, including nine PhDs and an amazing 30 students participating in six different Group Masters projects at the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at UC Santa Barbara.

In addition to the Bren School, institutions represented by the students working at Tejon include UC Santa Barbara, UC Berkeley, CSU Bakersfield, Claremont Graduate University, CSU Northridge, San Diego State University, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Colorado State University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. An impressive list of universities indeed! I would also be remiss not to acknowledge the Tejon Ranch Company that has allowed all this incredible work to take place on its property.

To give you a sense of the breadth and diversity of the research produced at Tejon Ranch, let’s have a look at the body of research from a number of perspectives.

First, a remarkable diversity of flora and fauna has been studied at Tejon. Individual species studied include striped adobe lily, salt bush, lupines, Brewer’s oak, ponderosa pine, Tehachapi slender salamander, purple martin, pronghorn, and wild pig. These projects ranged from looking at the evolution and taxonomic relationships of individual species, the evolutionary consequences of different mating systems, factors affecting recruitment of shrub species in the San Joaquin Desert, how climate affects tree species in our forests, and detailed studies of species population ecologies.

There were important, foundational studies looking at the structure and ecology of ecological systems and vegetation communities that characterize the large landscapes of Tejon, such as grasslands, shrublands, oak woodlands, mixed oak-conifer forests, and riparian habitats. Prior to this research, these unique Tejon ecosystems were virtually unknown to science.

Research was conducted on ecosystem properties like fire, landscape connectivity, influences of terrain on climate variation and tree recruitment, and interaction of climates and native and nonnative grazers (think cattle, Rocky Mountain elk, and pigs) on vegetation and invertebrate communities (such as ticks that carry diseases). These projects investigated important, timely topics that are helping us to better understand our rapidly changing world.

The results of many of these studies were integral to informing the Conservancy’s conservation management planning. For example, the Bren School projects, conducted under the supervision of Dr. Frank Davis, assembling conceptual models (Applebaum, Brown, Forsyth, Kashiwase, and Murray), investigating oak woodland ecology (Hoagland, Krieger, Moy, and Shepard), describing fire history, and identifying potential management strategies (Baumgarten, Gilreath, Knecht, Livingston, Phipps, and Prosser) provided key information when the Conservancy was developing the Ranch-wide Management Plan for Tejon.

Dr. Sheri Spiegal’s (UC Berkeley, Bartolome lab) Ph.D. dissertation work on the diverse grasslands at Tejon was particularly important in providing a science-based foundation for thinking about conservation grazing management of high priority Tejon grasslands.

Dr. Felix Ratcliff and Lina Aoyama (UC Berkeley, Bartolome lab) extended our understanding of riparian habitats and shrublands, respectively, which are also high conservation value, priority habitats for the Conservancy.

Ben Teton earned his Master’s degree (UC Santa Barbara) looking at how to measure the size of wild pig populations (easier said than done!). At the same time he managed the Conservancy’s large project partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to trap and track wild pigs—which are a huge agricultural and ecological problem in many parts of the U.S., including California.

And while still ongoing, I must mention the very important dissertation research being conducted on Tejon Ranch by Devyn Orr in Dr. Hilary Young’s lab (UCSB). This research uses large fenced exclosures to assess the effects of nonnative grazing animals (e.g., cattle, pigs, and Rocky Mountain elk) on oak woodland habitats spanning a warm/dry to cool/wet elevational and climate gradient. This is providing a picture of how climate change and nonnative species interact to affect oak woodlands, which are a resource of high conservation value at Tejon and across California.

One of the coolest projects was conducted by then Claremont Graduate University Ph.D. candidate, Nicholas Jensen. He documented the amazing native plant diversity of Tejon Ranch (over 1,000 plant taxa) and discovered and named a plant species new to science (how cool is that!). His work became the Flora of Tejon Ranch.

Finally, in perhaps one of the best examples of the deep science that is emerging from the Ranch, Dr. Ben Klein’s Ph.D. project (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) studied rocks at Tejon that are the result of geological processes that occurred 20 miles or more under the surface. There are few places in the world where these deep processes that create Earth’s crust can be studied up close, and it is yet another example of the extreme diversity of research opportunities the Ranch affords.

Another measure of academic productivity is the number of peer-reviewed publications produced over time. What is a peer-reviewed publication? In academia, the results of your research are reviewed and critiqued by your academic peers (i.e., researchers at other academic institutions) prior to being published in a scientific journal for the world to see. The peer-review process helps ensure that research is accurate and worthy of publication before the results are disseminated, and a peer-reviewed publication is the gold standard of academic research.

Over a 10-year period, the research that the Conservancy facilitated at Tejon Ranch has resulted in 27 peer-reviewed publications, and more are in the works. This pace of nearly three publications on average each year is a testament to the important role Tejon Ranch can play in furthering our scientific understanding of the world around us.

The diversity of these publications is also extraordinary. Many of the graduate student projects just discussed resulted in peer-reviewed publications, indicative of the high quality of their work.

In addition, several high-level research projects have been undertaken at Tejon that are of significance well beyond the Ranch. For example, Tejon Ranch was part of that national study of wild pigs conducted by USDA APHIS, and a number of papers have been generated from the wild pig project, including applying genetic tools to look at diets, evaluating pigs’ ecological and agricultural impacts, and developing techniques to quantify their population size; the results of these studies all have broad application.

Dr. Davis’ research on how microclimates across large landscapes influence responses of dominant tree species (oaks and pines) to changing climates has produced incredibly timely and relevant results, and has been responsible for nearly a quarter of the peer-reviewed publications to date.

As previously mentioned, Dr. Hilary Young’s lab is conducting important and complementary climate-related research and we are looking forward to seeing these results as they become available.

You’ve heard for years about the amazing biodiversity that the Conservancy is stewarding at Tejon Ranch and why it matters. But I hope I have shown that it’s really everything about the Ranch that creates such an incredibly valuable asset—a place to conduct an almost infinite array of research that can help us better understand our landscapes and ecosystems at a time when the degree and pace of deleterious change has become obvious to almost all.

The Conservancy’s facilitation of high-end research has proven to be a valuable role, and we hope that you’ll agree by continuing to support the Conservancy’s Science Program!

Photo by Mitchell Coleman

Environmental Education via Remote Learning

By Education Coordinator Paula Harvey

The 2020/2021 school year opened with remote learning for everyone. Many school districts have now invited students back to school on a part-time basis. For those who have returned, their classrooms look very different from one year ago.

Remote learning is a poor alternative, albeit for many, the only alternative.

I’ve experienced first-hand how truly difficult it is to teach remotely through Zoom. Imagine spending the entire day in a meeting, but you’re not in a conference room with your colleagues. You’re sitting in front of a computer or tablet screen for five to six hours. Paying attention and staying engaged are absolutely impossible.

Add in the fact that we’re talking about children, easily distracted, who need human contact, guidance, and reinforcement. How does a teacher look over the (virtual) shoulder of a student learning to read? And what does the teacher do when their student is wearing a silly hat, making faces, wearing pajamas, yawning, lounging on the bed, playing with the cat, with noise and distractions of family members in the background? Classroom management is the most challenging skill a teacher must master, but what does that look like virtually? A teacher can be effective, and a student can learn, but navigating the many challenges is huge and the results are sometimes frustrating and disappointing.

Not only are classrooms empty, but there are no field trips either. What does Tejon Ranch Conservancy do to be relevant during a time of remote learning? How do we provide environmental science education to teachers and their students?

We have developed a remote learning curriculum available to all teachers, accessible on our Remote Learning Page on our website at https://tejonconservancy.org/remotelearning. Additionally, I am available to teachers to consult and assist in developing or customizing their own environmental education program, and I’m available to teach lessons live, via Zoom. Lessons are appropriate for students in grades 5 through 12. I am available to work with college faculty to create a science notebook-based program as well.

John Muir Laws and Emilie Lygren recently published a spectacular book called “How to Teach Nature Journaling." The materials are Open Source and can be used and adapted by anyone. The book is available here: https://johnmuirlaws.com/product/how-to-teach-nature-journaling/

The activities in the book are tied to the Crosscutting Concepts of the Next Generation Science Standards, intended to be used by teachers in the field. We have adapted these lessons for remote learning, and have extended many of the lessons to explore the standards more deeply and to include some of our own.

Each lesson is presented as a PowerPoint presentation and recorded on Zoom. After some instruction, students go outdoors to do the activity. They return to the lesson when they have completed their journal activity. We dive deeply into each of the NGSS Crosscutting Standards that are taught in science classes all over the country. Additionally, I have developed a rigorous writing component to the lessons that encourages structured, effective science writing. The PowerPoint presentations are available for download and teachers can edit/adapt them to fit their programs.

Sample journal pages from middle-school students.

This project began in August and currently there are 15 lessons posted, with additional lessons added each week.

Please take a look at what we offer on our Remote Learning Page: https://www.tejonconservancy.org/remotelearning

In addition to the journaling lessons, we are also in the process of interviewing science professionals about their careers and career paths, which is a science education standard. As a bonus, there is a PowerPoint by UC Berkeley Virologist Scott Biering, a comprehensive and informative presentation about the coronavirus and his current research. This presentation is suitable for college and high school students.

I invite you to contact me about your environmental education needs, suggestions, and questions at pharvey@tejonconservancy.org.

Photo By Mitchell Coleman

Summer Interns Highlighted in CSUB Newsletter

CSU Bakersfield students Pia Keppler and Jared Hansen were highlighted in the university’s October newsletter about their experiences as summer interns at the Tejon Ranch Conservancy. You may read about them here: https://news.csub.edu/csub-students-thrive-in-tejon-ranch-conservancy-internship

What to Expect When Public Access Resumes

Many have asked when public access events will resume. The Conservancy anticipates some activities will resume in a reduced capacity this month. Because COVID-19 is extremely contagious and is spread mainly from person-to-person contact, the Conservancy will have put in place preventive measures, as prescribed by the CDC. Obviously, there is no way the Conservancy can guarantee that participants, volunteers, and others in attendance at such events will not be exposed to or become infected with COVID-19. We can only attempt to reduce the likelihood.

For the time being, this means we will not be conducting tours or events where participants, volunteers, and staff travel together in Conservancy or other vehicles. Hikes and other certain kinds of events may resume, however, with healthy participants driving their own vehicles to a staging area and then walking/hiking onto the Ranch as part of a Conservancy event or activity.

In these circumstances, participants will be expected to: arrive in family or household groups with whom they shelter in place, be free of symptoms (fever, cough, shortness of breath, and others), complete liability waivers and access permits, agree to have their temperature taken before proceeding with the event, follow CDC guidelines of social distancing and wearing protective face coverings during the event, and follow directions of staff and/or volunteers. Groups for these events will intentionally be smaller.

Please know that events may be canceled at any time for any reason, including changes in the state’s COVID tier system or as a result of case spikes in either Kern or Los Angeles counties. We realize these added precautions make attendance a little more difficult, but the safety of our visitors, volunteers, and staff are paramount.

Photo by Mitchell Coleman

As you will also be

We are extremely thankful to all of you who contribute to the Tejon Ranch Conservancy. Our cadre of volunteers helps us immeasurably. Some steer our organization as board members; others get knee-deep and dirty with stewardship projects; others count birds, pronghorn, and other species; there are those who act as guides and there is even one who makes sure that our vehicles have up-to-date first aid kits and fire extinguishers. With their support we are able to do some tremendous work.

We are grateful as well, for each of you who has supported us financially. It has allowed us to not just monitor the conditions of the conserved lands we love, but to study and improve habitat that benefit not just the species who call those places home, but to inform what works best in similar conditions both here on the Ranch and elsewhere. We have been able to bring people from all walks of life to explore and appreciate the unique and lovely place Tejon Ranch is. And, just as important, we have been able to inspire students to learn and appreciate what conservation means and why it is important to our earth.

Each of you makes that happen, when you volunteer, and when you give. This year at Thanksgiving we may not be surrounded by all the people we might hope to be with. But we know that they will be in our hearts and thoughts, as you will also be.

Photo by Mitchell Coleman

the infectious parlance of cow country

A few Western expressions

Calf slobbers - a cowboy's name for meringue.

Gold colic - a desire to find gold, desire to make money.

Leg bail - when a prisoner escapes from jail, he is said to take leg bail.

Set the hair - to ride a horse long enough to take the meanness out of him.

From Western Words: A Dictionary of the Old West by Ramon F. Adams (Hippocrene Books, 1997). Published with permission.

Photo by Mitchell Coleman

VIDEO: Mountain lion tracks in the high country

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Tejon Ranch Conservancy E-News produced by co-editors Tim Bulone and Susan Chaney. If you’d like to contribute to E-News, please let us know.

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