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Tejon Ranch Conservancy eNews Summer/Fall 2020

On the Ranch

By Operations Director Tim Bulone

When the natural order of things takes place, it’s not breaking news. In the last few weeks, a few stalwart docents observed four Pronghorn fawns browsing with their kin in the Antelope Valley. More than a few times we have seen wildlife videos from the Ranch where young bear cubs play near, or sometimes on, a watchful mother. Mountain lions preen and sun themselves near a water source, while red-tailed hawks soar lazily over the golden grasslands of San Joaquin hillsides.

But not terribly far from here, we often see headlines that another mountain lion is killed crossing a freeway, a bear is tranquilized and removed after visiting the yards and swimming pools of a suburban neighborhood, and coyotes are smorgasbord-ing on family pets. Animals roaming is the natural order of things; animals roaming into our trim, cozy neighborhoods becomes something else. It becomes news.

The truth is Tejon, with 240,000 acres of conserved land, leaves plenty of room for roaming, plenty of room for the natural order of things. From the tiniest invertebrates to the largest apex predators, Tejon has the space and ecosystems for these species to thrive. Wildlife corridors on Tejon Ranch allow for genetic diversity over large areas with few man-made barriers and because the Ranch jigsaws between the Southern Sierra, the Mojave Desert, the San Joaquin Valley and the coastal mountains, the range for these species multiplies in just about every direction. I am thankful every day that wise people chose to conserve these precious acres.

And even though COVID-19 has made visiting the Ranch uncertain for a time, we look forward to the day when we will be able to invite you back to do some (guided) roaming of your own to appreciate this hidden gem of biodiversity.

Photo by Ian Shive

LEARNING ON THE JOB

Interns discover the biodiverse and geologic mysteries of Tejon.

This summer, the Tejon Ranch Conservancy staff hosted two interns from California State University, Bakersfield.

Pia Keppler is a senior at CSUB. She loves the outdoors and is majoring in Environmental Resource Management. Keppler said that before she applied to this internship, she hadn’t given much thought to working for a conservancy. “I began researching the objectives and duties of the Tejon Ranch Conservancy and just thought, ‘Wow... this is my dream job!’ So, I am hoping to gain the full experience of a future career choice for myself.”

CSUB Intern Pia Keppler adding to her nature journal.

A few weeks into her internship, a few things surprised her. “I absolutely LOVED spotting wildlife and encountering evidence of their presence (tracks, bones, feathers, scat, etc.). It’s all a giant puzzle that tells a story on how the wildlife works on the Ranch. And the creeks! I could explore the creeks all day every day and never get tired of it.

“The Ranch is truly a hidden treasure with amazing biodiversity! I am most surprised that there isn’t more funding, given the important role the Conservancy plays. It’s truly amazing to see you guys in action and has really given me perspective about working with natural resources.”

Keppler can definitely see herself working in conservation. “My ideal job would be managing natural resources, specifically water sources, and/or as an ecologist for a wetlands refuge or conservancy.”

Keppler and fellow intern Jared Hansen examine rock samples in the field.

Jared Hansen is majoring in Geology as a junior at CSUB. This is not his first experience on Tejon Ranch. Hansen did his Eagle Scout project on the Ranch a few years ago. He enjoys the outdoors and gets outside every chance he gets.

Hansen describes his interest in this internship as an opportunity for growth, not just in work experience, but also in teamwork. In addition to geology and rocks, he knew the internship would expose him to other disciplines involving the many kinds of plants, trees, and animals found on the Ranch. “The ecosystems and biodiversity are very unusual compared to other lands that I have visited in the past. I am hoping during this internship that I can do my best as an intern and leave a legacy for the Tejon Ranch Conservancy to remember me by.”

CSUB Interns Jared Hansen and Pia Keppler trekked through some rugged country during their internship this summer.

He is driven to better understand how rocks and formations came to be over geologic time. “Every rock tells a history of its past and how it formed in and onto the earth over a period of time. I like looking at these precious earth materials (especially at Tejon Ranch) and unlocking any mysteries of their past. Studying and pondering questions about these earth materials allows people to understand what they are, over time. It makes me feel happy when I discover a mineral’s history. This allows me to share my knowledge of the earth and to tell people what I have learned because I unlocked the mysteries of its past. This is what makes me happy.”

This internship is a good stepping-stone for Hansen. “My Ideal career is to work for a mining company, where I can have the opportunity to use my geological knowledge in the field and travel around the world as a field geologist.”

Jared Hansen takes notes in the field.

Lower Tunis Canyon

Meet Nathan Keith

Our Newest Board Member

Nathan Keith grew up in the shadow of Mt. Rainier in Washington State. Keith says, “I still miss the year-round green scenery. Hard to beat a Washington summer day!”

He studied and received a degree in counseling. “I always thought I would be a family counselor, but that path never happened. I had a number of different jobs throughout and right after college, but Tejon was my first career job and I have been here ever since! I have been working on land entitlements for the last 10-plus years at Tejon Ranch Company. My core focus is the Centennial master-planned project.”

But before solely focusing on Centennial, Keith contributed toward the creation of the Conservancy itself. “Before the Conservation and Land Use Agreement was signed in June 2008, and the Tejon Ranch Conservancy was created, there were many hours of meetings, Ranch tours, Ranch maps, best management practices, etc., which had to be completed.

“Starting my career at Tejon Ranch in February 2007, I immediately jumped into that work effort. After the Conservancy was founded, I spent the next six months establishing a number of hikes for the public access program, as well as guiding some of the first groups to access the Ranch after the agreement: Sierra Club, Audubon, California Herpetologist, etc.”

Outside of work, he especially enjoys spending time with his family. “We do a lot of outdoors activities, including exploring the Ranch whenever we can. My personal hobbies include fishing, hiking, and enjoying good coffee!”

As for exploring the Ranch, Keith admits difficulty picking his favorite place to visit. “It’s hard to pick one place, especially with the changes that happen depending on the season, but I guess I’ll go with the rolling oak hills between Bull Ridge and Winters Canyon. It’s quiet, lots of hills to hike, and you never know what you will stumble upon!”

Photo by Ian Shive

HOW DO ANIMALS ‘BEAT THE HEAT’ ON TEJON RANCH?

By 2020 Conservancy Summer Interns Pia Keppler and Jared Hansen

It is the hottest time of the year, and if you’re not enjoying the cold air conditioning or splashing in the water, then chances are you’re hot, sweaty, and plain miserable. Sweating is an essential bodily function that helps us regulate our body temperature when we are hot. But not all animals possess the ability to sweat.

So what is the secret to staying cool if you’re an animal living on Tejon Ranch?

To answer that question, we need to start with torpor. Torpor is a state of physical or mental inactivity when an animal slows its metabolism. It can last days to weeks in any season. Daily torpor refers to the period of low body temperature that lasts less than 24 hours and is common in animals such as mice and hummingbirds.

The physiological process that helps many species survive during the hot summer months is referred to as estivation. It can be defined as prolonged torpor or dormancy of an animal during a hot or dry period.

Estivation is both curious and surprising because the process is identical to hibernation, which is the condition or period of an animal or plant spending the winter in a dormant state. Wait, we are talking about summertime still, right? Since hibernation is a more familiar term, it is worth revisiting what physiological changes animals experience during winter months.

Hibernation

In hibernation, an animal spends the cold months in a long-term, multi-day state of torpor in order to survive cold conditions and lack of food availability. It is characterized by decreased metabolic activity that lowers body temperature, and reduces breathing and heart rate.

Estivation is the same thing, but occurs in the summer months. In short, estivation and hibernation are both long periods of inactivity made up of multiple bouts of torpor.

On Tejon Ranch, many animals go into hibernation as a way of lowering their body temperature, and reducing their breathing and heart rate. An example of a reptile that hibernates on the Ranch is the horned lizard, Phrynosoma. Four species of Phrynosoma occur in California and two species, Phrynosoma blainvillii (Blainville’s horned lizard) and Phrynosoma platyrhinos calidiarum (southern desert horned lizard) live on the Ranch. These reptiles have round, beige- and black-spotted bodies. They are about 2.5-8 inches long and live about five to eight years.

Horned lizards inhabit arid, hot ecosystems in western North America. These reptiles thrive on invertebrates, such as spiders, grasshoppers, and especially ants, and some plant material. They bury themselves in sandy soils about 3-4 inches and live in burrows of other animals, hibernating in the fall and emerging in the spring.

Southern desert horned lizard (Phrynosoma platyrhinos calidiarum).

Estivation

When the heat is unbearable and inescapable, certain animals find a cool space and enter estivation to conserve energy. Think of it this way: When it is 100-plus degrees, the last thing you want to do is overexert yourself outdoors. But imagine if your life depended on constant moisture to survive, even in drought conditions.

Ensatina eschscholtzii croceater is an incredible and under-appreciated amphibian species that, surprisingly, calls Tejon Ranch its home. Three species of lungless salamanders reside on the Ranch and their survival is completely dependent upon estivation.

“Since they lack lungs, all plethodontids breathe through their skin and the mucous membrane in the mouth and throat; these surfaces must remain moist at all times in order to absorb oxygen.” (George R. Zug: Curator Emeritus, Division of Amphibians and Reptiles, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.)

What’s unique about this semi-aquatic, yellow-blotched salamander is that it is endemic to South-Central California (meaning it lives nowhere else). Tejon Ranch makes up a portion of its habitat. This region is characterized by a Mediterranean climate of cold, wet winters and hot, dry summers. Because lungless salamanders require constant moisture, it literally equates to a suitable environment only half of the time.

Yellow-blotched salamander (Ensatina eschscholtzii croceater). Photo by Pia Keppler.

These amphibians seek refuge in the moisture of the soil, usually underneath fallen logs or in shallow burrows. When temperatures begin to drop and moisture becomes more abundant on the surface, they will emerge for feeding and mating as long as conditions allow.

While in a state of estivation during dry months, the yellow-blotched salamander isn’t just keeping its skin moist, its metabolism slows down tremendously, so it doesn’t starve to death. Because the Ranch is so arid in summer, there is no way for it to come to the surface to eat.

Anna’s hummingbird (Calypte anna). Photo by Chris Gardner.

As we previously mentioned, some species enter a state of torpor daily in order to survive. Calypte anna, commonly referred to as Anna’s hummingbird, goes into a state of torpor almost every night, regardless of weather conditions.

Much like the lungless salamanders, the hummingbird’s metabolic rate drops dramatically. In fact, it can drop as much as 1/15th of its normal rate during torpor. In fact, these birds go into such a deep state of torpor that they have been known to sometimes hang upside down!

However, this hummingbird only remains in torpor for a short period of time and for a very different reason than salamanders. Calypte anna has such an incredibly high metabolism that it must eat on average every 10 minutes. When the temperature falls, these busy birds find a safe place to perch and they enter torpor. Their body temperature can fall as low as 48 degrees. When the temperature rises, the warmth triggers the hummingbird to wake up and become active once again.

An extensive and diverse group of animals is linked together by torpor. Learning about these wonderful and unique adaptations is one reason we, at the Tejon Ranch Conservancy, have a sense of purpose. Protecting these animals and sharing their amazing abilities with the world is the best project we have had the pleasure of being a part of as interns.

So, to all our fellow explorers and nature lovers, next time you take that summer hike and you’re dripping in sweat, keep the yellow-botched salamander in mind and be thankful that you don’t have to take a six-month nap to stay cool!

THE LATEST FROM OUR SCIENCE AND STEWARDSHIP PROGRAMS

Story and Photos by Conservation Science Manager Mitchell Coleman

Looking north across the high country of Tejon as seen from Blue Ridge. From left to right, prominent landscape features are Lopez Flats, Winters Ridge, El Paso Canyon, Middle Ridge, and Cordon Ridge.

Life during COVID-19 has meant that we have all been to fewer public places and events. This has included modifications to our public access and education programs. Nonetheless, our science and stewardship programs have continued apace (with safe social distancing!) and we have a few notable updates to share.

A New Pine for the Tejon Ranch Flora

Rare has been the year in the Conservancy’s 12-year existence when a new species (or two, or three, etc.) has not been added to the Tejon flora (official plant list). Because Tejon is situated at the confluence of four ecoregions, high biodiversity—a great variety of genes, species, and ecosystems—is normal here, and additions are made with regularity.

However, most plant species added in recent years have been annual “microflora,” which generally occur in rarely visited sites across the Ranch. These rare species do not always germinate annually, so they are easily missed. Considering the size and variety of ecosystems on the Ranch, this is not surprising. However, it has been some years since a large perennial species, or “megaflora”, has been added to the list.

In 2019 and again this year, botanist Neal Kramer and Conservancy staff members Ellery Mayence and I surveyed an extant (remnant) pine population previously unknown on the Ranch. It is Pinus flexilis, commonly known as limber pine. This species is abundant in the Transverse Range (think Mount Pinos and Reyes Peak) to the west of Tejon, and higher up in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and Great Basin Desert to the north.

Much of Tejon’s highest elevations are dominated by conifers, including white fir (Abies concolor), incense cedar (Calocedrus decurrens), and various pines (Pinus jeffreyi, P. coulteri, P. lambertiana). This limber pine population occurs on Blue Ridge, close to the very highest elevation on the Ranch (approximately 6,800 feet). It is likely a remnant population that was once much larger. There are currently a whopping total of three individuals. More remnant stands may occur elsewhere on the Ranch, but it will take more surveys to find them.

A close-up of limber pine (Pinus flexilis) needles and microstrobili (pollen-bearing cones) on Blue Ridge, June 2020.

A New Species of Jewelflower

A new species of jewelflower, Streptanthus medeirosii, hereafter commonly called Tejon jewelflower, was recently described in the botanical journal Madroño. Tejon jewelflower is not only a new species to the Tejon flora—it is entirely new to science. The species is endemic (unique) to Tejon Ranch, where three distinct populations of it have been identified. As an herbaceous perennial, above-ground foliage dies back every year, but it resprouts the next.

Mature blooms of the Tejon jewelflower (Streptanthus medeirosii), June 2020.

Several morphological characteristics distinguish Tejon jewelflower from closely related taxa. For example, it is distinguished from its closest evolutionary relative, Streptanthus bernardinus, by the occasional presence of hairs on the tips of the sepals (the greenish parts that enclose the petals), darker maroon petal coloration, and larger fruit size. More populations of Tejon jewelflower likely exist beyond the known three. Like the recently surveyed limber pine population, it will take more concerted efforts to find other Tejon jewelflower populations. For now, though, we take a moment to enjoy this significant discovery.

Close-up of a single Tejon jewelflower in June 2020. Non-plants pictured include a goldenrod crab spider (Misumena vatia) and a leafhopper (Erythroneura spp.).

Update on Bakersfield Cactus Populations

Bakersfield cactus (Opuntia basilaris var. treleasei) is a Federally and State Endangered cactus variety endemic to the southeast corner of the San Joaquin Desert. Historic populations continuously ranged from the foothills northeast of Bakersfield to the Wheeler Ridge area north of Grapevine Canyon.

Changing land uses over the last 200 years have resulted in the loss of at least one-third of the historic cacti range. Many remnant populations are isolated on small parcels with no vector for genetic exchange. Clonal reproduction through shedded pads is the primary way the cacti propagate. Some populations continue to be threatened by land use changes in addition to ecological constraints, such as drought and insect herbivory. Numerous extant populations occur on the conserved lands of Tejon Ranch and the property is a significant refuge for the species. Moreover, while most of the cacti on Tejon are naturally-occurring, there have been many successfully transplanted clusters in areas where it had been extirpated (locally died out).

A small cluster of transplanted Bakersfield cactus from a November 2014 restoration project in collaboration with the CSU Stanislaus Endangered Species Recovery Program and McCormick Biological. Six years on, many transplanted clusters remain and are in good condition.

Right: A small, healthy cluster of Bakersfield cactus in the vicinity of Tejon Creek, July 2020.

In May 2020, it became apparent that throughout the San Joaquin Desert, an outbreak of spur-throated grasshoppers (Melanoplus spp.) was far exceeding the typical numbers. Grasshopper outbreaks in California are a cyclical phenomenon known since at least the mid-1800s, although they have been poorly documented. Grasshoppers have a diverse diet. In a typical year in California, they prefer exotic annual grasses (i.e., Bromus spp., Avena spp.) now ubiquitous throughout the region. When outbreaks occur, grasshopper herbivory can significantly affect both native and agricultural species.

Right: Close-up of two spur-throated grasshoppers (Melanoplus spp.), May 2020.

In June 2020, grasshopper herbivory and subsequent mortality of Bakersfield cactus were reported on adjacent conservation properties. In July 2020, I started a Ranch-wide survey of known cacti locations (over 150!), with the goals of assessing the level of potential grasshopper damage, updating the database with what is currently alive, and identifying extirpated areas that would benefit from future restoration.

Right: Spur-throated grasshoppers resting on a mature Bakersfield cactus pad.

While the survey effort is ongoing, July’s data suggest that the grasshopper outbreak had a marginal effect on cactus populations on Tejon. At least 20 previously known sites are now extirpated, though this occurred from unknown causes long prior to the current outbreak. The remaining 100-plus known stands ranged from approximately 30% grasshopper-induced pad mortality to completely untouched. Most stands were in good condition.

Close-up of grasshopper herbivory on a single Bakersfield cactus pad. Such herbivory often kills individual pads, and sometimes, entire clusters.

Overall, as of July 2020, the Bakersfield cactus populations on Tejon Ranch were in good condition, having receded in some areas, but expanded in others. Going forward, these populations will warrant dedicated management efforts, including restoration efforts at extirpated stands.

Right: Example of grasshopper-induced pad mortality on a Bakersfield cactus cluster, July 2020. Note the recently deceased pads and associated grasshopper scars on the lower right.

Landcape view of a large and healthy cluster of Bakersfield cactus in the vicinity of Caliente Creek, July 2020. While grasshopper herbivory and associated pad mortality were observed at some cactus sites, most were untouched and healthy.

Tunis Springs Enhancement Area, Six Years On

Riparian and wetland enhancement has long been a component of the Conservancy’s stewardship program. Starting in 2014, a series of fenced exclosures, which keep certain animals out, rather than in, were constructed around various creek and wetland systems across the Ranch. The broad goal of these exclosures is to enhance habitat through strategic cattle grazing.

A 4-acre spring system at the mouth of Tunis Canyon, June 2010. The green species within the spring are mostly exotic annual grasses (Avena sativa, Bromus diandrus). Photo by Phoebe Prather.

The smallest of these enhancement areas is a 4-acre spring at the mouth of Tunis Canyon. At Tunis Spring (as well as other enhancement areas), the Conservancy uses grazing cattle to reduce the biomass of exotic grasses in the fall and winter. These exotic grasses are highly resource-competitive and often preclude the germination and survival of native species. Moreover, many wetland and riparian taxa recruit their offspring during the hot summer months, when they are especially vulnerable to disturbance. Thus, grazing during the fall and winter (to reduce exotic grass biomass) combined with cattle exclusion during summer (to allow native taxa time to recruit) is an effective method to passively restore riparian and wetland habitats.

The same spring system, June 2015. The fence line in this image was constructed in 2014. Note the shift in species composition from 2010 (previous photo) to a variety of native wetland taxa, including wire rush (Juncus balticus), tule (Schoenoplectus americanus), and salt grass (Distichlis spicata). Photo by Laura Pavliscak.

In addition, annual vegetation surveys have tracked changes in species diversity and structural complexity over time. Wildland weeding efforts have also further reduced the exotic plant biomass.

The same spring system, June 2020. Note the shift in species composition and structural complexity from 2010 and 2015, including multiple species of rush (Juncus spp.), tule (Schoenoplectus americanus), and salt grass (Distichlis spicata).

Six years on, the vegetation monitoring dataset from Tunis Springs is large and is still being analyzed. However, qualitative changes are quite apparent. What was once mostly exotic grassland is now a diverse suite of native wetland taxa. Furthermore, the enhanced habitat has enabled wildlife, including mammals, birds, and herpetofauna (reptiles and amphibians), to take up residence.

Scouts BSA Fight Exotic Weeds and Install Wildlife Cameras

The largest riparian enhancement area on Tejon Ranch is centered at the confluence of Tejon and Chanac creeks. From 2015 to 2017, new water infrastructure and fence lines were constructed to create the 1,200-acre Chanac Pasture. This new pasture has the same grazing regimen as at Tunis Spring: cattle absence in the summer and presence in the fall and winter. This being a newer enhancement area, several components were missing, including tracking changes in habitat use by wildlife and consistent efforts to remove exotic plant taxa.

Scouts from BSA troops 2119 and 47 celebrating their victory over exotic horehound sage (Marrubium vulgare) in the Chanac Pasture, in early 2020 (before COVID-19).

In March 2020 (prior to stay-at-home orders), Scouts from troops 2119 and 47 conducted a wildland weeding effort in the Chanac Pasture, targeting the removal of invasive horehound sage (Marrubium vulgare). Armed with trash bags and spades, the intrepid Scouts bravely conquered a dense patch of the sage under a mature canopy of valley oaks (Quercus lobata). This is one of the most robust populations of valley oak south of Bakersfield and removal of exotics from their understory may enhance oak recruitment.

Right: A Scout engaged in the removal of an exotic tamarisk tree (Tamarix ramosissima) in a seasonally dry stretch of Tejon Creek, July 2020.

Later in July, the Scouts returned, this time from troops 188 and 194. The goal was twofold: installation of wildlife camera traps to better monitor changes in habitat use and opportunistic removal of several exotic tamarisk trees (Tamarix ramosissima) in Tejon Creek. One Scout, William Brown, completed the final requirement for his Eagle Scout through this project.

Right: Scouts working to install a wildlife camera trap in Tejon Creek, July 2020.

Above: Nearly a dozen scouts and leaders from troops 188 and 194 completed this important project near Chanac Creek, July 2020.

All in all, although the Conservancy’s programs have been fewer than usual this year because of COVID-19, science and stewardship work have continued to make progress. These projects would never have been accomplished without the help of partner groups, such as Scouts BSA, academic collaborators, and of course, our amazing and dedicated cadre of docents and volunteers.

Ray’s Perch

the infectious parlance of cow country

A few western expressions

Fox-fire - A phosphorus light seen on the horns of cattle during an electric storm.

Load of hay on his skull - Said of a long-haired man.

Raised on sour milk - Said of a crank or disagreeable person.

Salty - When this word is used in speaking of a man, it means he is a good hand; of a horse, it means it is a hard bucker. The word is also used in the sense of showing fight or aggression. I heard one cowhand speak of another’s being “salty as Lot’s wife” and another spoke of one's being “salty as Utah.”

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

Photo by Paula Harvey
Brian Girado of Stallion Springs caught this photo of a flock of California condors along a roadside in early August. A flock of condors is commonly known as a condo or scarcity of condors.

VIDEO: Observing wildlife never gets old

See MORE videos like this.

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info@tejonconservancy.org

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www.tejonconservancy.org

Thank you!

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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