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Tejon Ranch conservancy enews June 2018

On the Ranch

By President & CEO Bob Reid

The lessons we learn from nature may not always be the most obvious, but they may be the most enduring. We’ve heard a lot lately about the “nature deficit” in children. Here at Tejon, the Conservancy is working to change that.

Our goal for every guest’s visit to Tejon’s conserved lands has always been to “leave knowing more.” This past year, we took that goal up a notch with a formal Education Program. Working with local schools, training teachers, and offering them this valuable natural resource, we seek to make a field visit a way to enhance learning, and a new and exciting part of their curricula (you may have read Paula’s column in previous issues about how she’s been going about this).

What’s important about this effort is bigger than just a field trip. It’s about changing the way children think and relate to their environment, offering tools for observation that can be used in many ways, and providing a better understanding of their role and impact on our planet. More so, it’s about empowering young minds to make decisions about their future and ours, and how we all relate and belong in the natural world.

Learning takes many forms, ranging from visiting on a day tour, to seeking additions to your bird list, to experiencing wildflowers, or to literally poring over the hosted research and the conservation science that informs our stewardship and adds to the compendium of knowledge about our diverse western ecology.

And, like understanding the natural world, understanding the Conservancy takes time, patience, and a bit of exploring. We are a multifaceted enterprise, led by a relatively small staff with varied backgrounds, along with dedicated interns and volunteers, knowledgeable consultants and researchers, all passionately caring for a rich and unfragmented landscape of 240,000 conserved acres, right here in Southern California.

We believe you, our readers, our members, our donors, and our guests, share our values, our principles, and our drive to do the right thing here at Tejon by supporting a robust and enduring Conservancy. Please help keep the Tejon Ranch Conservancy strong into the future and young minds learning.

See you on the Ranch!

Bob Reid

President and CEO

Illustration by Tim Bulone

By Bonnie Rottier Felix

I was 12 years old when I first set foot on Tejon Ranch. It was a Sunday in 1953 during wildflower season. My mother and I had been invited to have lunch with the cowboys out at the old Ranch headquarters.

We had recently moved to Bakersfield from Los Angeles with the rest of the executive staff of the Ranch. My mother was secretary to Bill Moore, vice president of Tejon Ranch at that time. The drive out to the ranch took us along beautiful backroads into the heart of the Ranch.

We arrived about noon, and began to take in where we were. White-washed buildings from the 1800s clustered in a grove of old, old oaks. It felt like we had stepped back in time. Outside the air was warming up, and fragrant. We walked across the unpaved parking area, and up a couple of steps to where the dining room was.

We filed in slowly, through the screen door, along with all the cowboys, and found places at one of the long wooden tables that filled the room. I remember big, white, heavy-looking pitchers filled with milk brought in early that morning from the Tejon dairy cows. I also remember the enticing smell of the food being passed on big platters. We felt welcome amid friendly talk and hungry cowboy clatter. Sunday lunch grew into something we did regularly. Over time, we got to know some of the cowboys well.

Bonnie on Tony Araujo's horse named Tejon

Tony Araujo, one of the older veteran cowboys, took time after lunch to teach me how to ride. Soon my mother and I began to take long, late afternoon rides out on the land. Much of the territory became familiar, but we were regularly surprised by a beautiful new place.

In 1956 the Tejon Ranch Company moved its headquarters from Bakersfield to Tejon. Houses were built for the executive staff and their families, including my mother and me. This move began a vivid chapter in my growing connection with the land at Tejon.

We soon got to know the Wilbanks family, who lived just up the road toward Lebec. Charlie Wilbanks was the foreman of the purebred cattle division. His son Billy was 14, and already a good cowboy. His father and my mother arranged for me to join Billy, moving cows that summer. I was now 15, and had become a pretty good rider.

There were two or three canyons back in between Lebec and Fort Tejon where some of the Tejon cows were being grazed. The cows depended on water from spring boxes—concrete boxes meant to collect spring water from deep underground. In the summer heat, the spring boxes at lower elevations dried out, and the cows needed to be moved to higher ground where the boxes still had water.

Bonnie with Tony Araujo on Tejon Ranch

Summer began, and I started my days early. I walked down from my house to a little pasture near the school, saddled up one of the horses the Ranch was grazing there, and rode up the trail to the Wilbanks’ house. Billy would meet me outside his back door, and we would take off up into one of the canyons where the cows were grazing.

Lanky, and relaxed, Billy looked like he belonged on the back of a horse. Slowly and steadily we began to herd the cows up the canyon.

In addition to moving the cows, we had to watch for any pink eye and treat it. Billy taught me how to do it, and gave me the medicine to keep in my pocket. He knew the routine well. When one of us spotted a cow with pink eye, Billy—a first class roper already—would rope it, and I would jump down to doctor the cow’s infected eye.

We continued to slowly climb up, then down, the sides of the canyon, separating to collect stray cows. When we went as far up the canyon as we’d planned for the day, we were ready for lunch.

We looked for an old oak with lots of shade. Leaving our horses to graze, we got our lunches and found a comfy place to sit. I remember the stillness up there. The only sound was the far-off hum of insects in the summer heat.

Leaning up against the trunk of the old tree, we stretched out our legs and dug into whatever was in our paper bags. We didn’t talk much as a rule, but once Billy told me that his dad started putting him up on a horse before he could walk.

After lunch, we both took a nap. Legs stretched out, ankles crossed, we tipped our hats down to shade our eyes. After a bit, it was time to move on again. Somehow, Billy always knew when it was time to go. Making our way slowly back down the canyon, we checked for any cows we might have missed. We parted at the bottom of the canyon and headed home.

We spent most of three summers like this. Slow and easy time with the animals—coming to know the shapes of those canyons and of the trees, and the changing color of the sky. Those were life-changing days. Summers moving cows with Billy ended when I left for college.

Lunchtimes with the cowboys, the long afternoons exploring the Ranch on horseback, and moving cows with Billy forged in me a deep connection with the land at Tejon. That connection became an essential part of me.

Bonnie on the Ranch

In 2008, when I learned of the creation of the Tejon Ranch Conservancy, I was overwhelmed. Overwhelmed with gratitude for all those who imagined the possibility, and worked together for so long to make the Conservancy a reality.

I thank everyone at the Conservancy today for all you do as you continue to sustain and protect this precious land.

EDUCATION PROGRAM GETS $20,000 BOOST

Education Coordinator Paula Harvey with journaling students

The Virginia and Alfred Harrell Foundation has a long tradition of giving back to Kern County through funding grants to a variety of local nonprofits. Formerly known as The Bakersfield Californian Foundation, its Board of Directors, and mission and goals, remain the same, supporting vital services to Kern County residents. We are pleased to announce a $20,000 grant from the foundation to the Tejon Ranch Conservancy’s Education Program. This grant will help continue the program into 2019, supporting staff, materials, and expenses related to bringing underserved local students and their teachers to Tejon for an enhanced curriculum in environmental education. We thank the foundation for its past and present support, and for the important work it makes possible throughout Kern County.

If you would also like to support the Education Program, please contact Paula Harvey at Pharvey@tejonconservancy.org

PUBLIC ACCESS UPDATE

By Public Access/Education Manager Chris Fabbro

May was another busy month for Public Access, with several educational and volunteer activities on the Ranch. Two memorable events in particular were the annual Volunteer Appreciation Day and our 2018 Breeding Bird Blitz. See the album below for snapshots of the volunteer tour and picnic. Follow our Facebook page and scroll through recent posts for photos from the Bird Blitz and final spring wildflower hike.

Volunteer Appreciation Lunch

June will host the long-awaited docent training, which also serves as a refresher for those who have completed the California Naturalist course in the past and would like to brush up on their skills. Contact cfabbro@tejonconservancy.org for details or for volunteer opportunities. We are now planning to host the full California Naturalist training in spring 2019 when resources are better available.

Last month’s Public Access hike to Blue Ridge sold out within a couple days of being announced. This month, be sure to register immediately to ensure a space for the June 8 afternoon hike to Marble Spring. Current members, watch your inbox in early June for an invitation to a “members-only” summer solstice backcountry bushwhack on the easternmost spine of Tejon.

The California Naturalist Series

BAJA CHORUS FROG: A FAMOUS CROAK

Story and photos by Chris Gardner, California Naturalist and Conservancy Docent

The Baja California chorus frog (Pseudacris hypochondriaca) is a small frog with a large head and large eyes. A wide dark stripe runs through the middle of each eye and extends from the nostrils to the shoulders. The body color is variable, but most often green or brown, and can change to match the frog’s environment.

This frog is one of three species previously known as Pacific tree frogs. In 1986, they were elevated to species status and reclassified as chorus frogs based on molecular data. The northern-most species is the Northern Pacific chorus frog; in the middle geographic area is the Sierra chorus frog; and in Southern California is the Baja California chorus frog.

Because the Baja California chorus frog is found near Hollywood, its vocalizations have frequently been used as stock sounds for film and television. As a result, its distinctive call of “ribbit, ribbit” has become a standard representation of frog vocalizations, both in the United States and more widely in the English-speaking world. In the real world, only it and the two closely related species actually make the sound.

LEARNING ABOUT THE RANCH… FROM SPACE!

By Stewardship Manager Laura Pavliscak

Turns out, observing and documenting natural resources by foot isn’t the only way, or even the best way, to capture information. For some questions, a much larger view and broader timeframe can illuminate details and patterns that aren’t always possible to see with a field visit. This is especially true for a small team like our Conservancy staff working across the 375 square miles of Tejon Ranch.

Documenting the distribution of some of our most concerning invasive plants, observing the changes in oak canopy cover responding to drought, tracking invasive wild pig damage in sensitive habitats, recording the spatial scale and temporal progression of conifer mortality on rugged high elevation slopes—these are all important and complicated issues that affect natural resources management on Tejon and are difficult to understand at a landscape scale.

RoboHawk drone

Advanced tools are becoming increasingly available to land managers to observe—repeatedly through time—landscape-scale resources.

AeroVironments drone test

Last year we partnered with the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management to assess the aerial imagery tools available for monitoring natural resources at a landscape scale. This was our sixth Bren partnership, all involving group Master’s projects of four to five students with different backgrounds coming together to address a single question or issue.

Bren students

For this project we hosted a super bright cadre of students, Ellie Campbell, Cheryl Bube, Jonathan Pham, Amanda Kelley, and Kalli Kilmer, who conducted an extensive review of literature and spatial resources to understand the available tools, using the Conservancy-owned Panofsky/Caliente Creek property. We also received the generous donation of services from two companies, RoboHawk and AeroVironments, which used different models of drones of contrasting cost and capacities to map the same spatial area to compare resolution and spectral tools.

Bren students setting up the study

The cost and efficacy of a suite of aerial imagery tools and scenarios were assessed, ranging from do-it-yourself drone sampling (with the required investment of instruments, training, software, and analysis), to contracting for the same work with a consulting company, to using the diversity of online data now available from satellite imagery.

Ellie Campbell and Chery Bube

Using drones and/or satellite imagery to monitor resources and conservation management efforts could greatly enhance the Conservancy’s ability to better utilize our time and money, and learn more about the Ranch. Understanding the tools available to answer questions, broad and small, is crucial to a little organization like ours, with a big agenda but limited capacity.

Bren students at their public defense

We are very grateful for the time, the engagement, and the passionate approach these students applied to help our Conservancy address resource management. What a spectacular bunch! The Bren team will be coming in June to our area to present its work to our organization and our community. If you are interested in attending, please contact Laura at laura@tejonconservancy.org for more details.

EDUCATION UPDATE

By Education Coordinator Paula Harvey

As hardworking teachers were wrapping up the school year, teachers from three high schools brought their students out on the Ranch. Our last group came from Frazier Mountain High School. Students from Lee Bizzini’s integrated science class spent the day in beautiful Big Sycamore Canyon on the Antelope Valley side of the Ranch, learning about transects (see Behind the Gates article) and nature journaling.

Lee Bizzini’s integrated science class huddles under a Valley Oak to escape the chilling wind.

College of the Canyons biology and anthropology professors visited Ray’s Perch, lunched at the White Fir picnic site, then drove across Contour Road and saw a burrowing owl (Athene cunicularia) and five pronghorn (Antilocapra americana americana), all while discussing ways to integrate activities for their students on the Ranch.

College of the Canyons professors and a student enjoying lunch among the white firs.

Kern High School District science and art faculty toured Joaquin Flats and discovered ripe gooseberries and calico monkey flowers.

Kern High School District Art and Science faculty.

The event wrapped up with the exciting discovery of western spadefoot toads (Spea hammondii) hiding in the cracks of a drying vernal pool.

Kern High School Distrrict faculty studying western spadefoot toads in a dry vernal pool with Conservancy docent Reema Hammad.

Western spadefoot toads back into the shade under the drying mud.

On June 20, we will have a full-day cross-ranch tour for faculty. If you are a high school or college faculty member and would be interested in joining other colleagues on this tour, please email me for registration details at pharvey@tejonconservancy.org.

Contact me if:

• You are teaching summer school and would like to bring your class out on the Ranch. (Remember we need two to three weeks lead time to make the necessary arrangements.)

• You would like to discuss ways we can support your educational program for the upcoming 2018/19 school year.

• You are planning on bringing your students to the Ranch in the fall, or want to plan seasonal student visits for the upcoming school year (reserve your dates now).

• You would like to schedule a special faculty tour for your school or for you and your colleagues during the summer.

Teachers and students…Enjoy your well-earned summer break!

Please help more students learn about the natural world on Tejon.

Photo by Mike White

BEHIND THE GATES...

By Senior Ecologist C. Ellery Mayence

As has been the case for the past several months, May was busy on the Ranch with respect to research.

Devyn Orr, doctoral student in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at UC Santa Barbara, continues to be a fixture on the Ranch as she investigates context-dependent effects of herbivore-initiated interaction cascades on community structure and ecosystem function. This is a multi-year, landscape-scale project occurring over a range of elevations and habitat types.

At significantly smaller spatial scales (though within a landscape-scale context), Kane Keller, Ph.D., of CSU Bakersfield, has significantly ramped up his efforts to better understand how variation in nitrogen deposition along an elevational gradient affects the evolutionary dynamics between legumes and rhizobia (soil-borne bacteria).

Both are fascinating projects that are proving to be extremely informative.

Internally, May was also busy as Stewardship Manager Laura Pavliscak, with the assistance of consulting botanist Neal Kramer (Kramer Botanical), headed up our yearly vegetation monitoring at various locations across the Ranch. This is a rigorous process yielding detailed quantitative information in support of the Conservancy’s grazing and invasive wild pig management activities. This year’s efforts included establishing a multitude of transects (i.e., linear study plots) in sensitive riparian habitat that the Conservancy, Tejon Ranch Company, and the Echeverria and Centennial cattle companies (the Ranch’s cattle lessees) are passively restoring through conservation-minded cattle ranching.

Ask about these and other ongoing research projects on your next Conservancy-sponsored Tejon Ranch visit!

REACHING OUT—MORE THAN EVER

Conservation Communications Manager Ben Teton

One of the more vital roles of an organization like ours is telling our story. Not everyone is lucky enough to get behind the gates, so we try to bring Tejon to you!

We hope to do more of this now as Ben Teton, former Conservancy Wildlife Biologist, assumes his new role as Conservation Communications Manager. In this role, Ben will expand on his already robust outreach to community and stakeholder groups, sharing the amazing wildlife videos we all love, and taking the Conservancy to the next level of video, web, and social media communications. And who better to do this than an experienced and talented biologist who has traversed and studied the Ranch these past four years?

To schedule a presentation that will take you deep into the natural world of Tejon, contact Ben at bteton@tejonconservancy.org

Photo by Mike White

TEJON’S MARVELOUS MAMMAL MOMMAS

By Conservation Communications Manager Ben Teton

With Mother’s Day just a few weeks ago, we decided to feature wildlife video highlighting some of our most marvelous mammal mommas as they raise their young across our conserved lands. The patience, commitment, and care exemplified by these Tejon mothers are remarkably similar to those traits in human mothers. Whether they are providing milk for sustenance, teaching essential survival skills, or fiercely protecting their little ones from harm, mammal mothers build this most foundational familial bond in much the same way. These behaviors are what separate our furry families from all others, and allow us to adapt before we are fully developed and capable of surviving on our own. Thank you to all the world’s mothers for protecting and guiding us through this wild and uncertain journey.

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“Good” urbanization key to biodiversity conservation.

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

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