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Tejon Ranch Conservancy eNews Winter/Spring 2021

On the Ranch

By Operations Director Tim Bulone

Rain and snow have fallen on Tejon Ranch since our last newsletter. Moisture, falling from the sky after so many drought years, still seems almost magical.

The water replenishes the soil and runs off to form the many creeks and streams on the Ranch. Conservation Science Director Emeritus Michael White speaks to that process in this issue, a watershed moment, so to speak. We come to trust the cycle of seasons to bring that which we most need, in its time. Both a simple wisdom and reassurance are in this, exemplified in the shampoo instruction: Lather, rinse, repeat.

We need not look far for other cycles that play important roles in our lives.

There are life cycles for most everything: a butterfly for several weeks, the sun at several billion years and, for some reason, the life cycle of the washing machine is always shorter than we expect. Our week has a cycle that makes Monday seem dreary and Friday seem exciting. The spinning of the Earth as it circles the sun brings us yet another cycle of day and night, day and night. We count on (or discount) this as much as we do our own breath. Then there are the biological cycles of birth, growth, maturity, reproduction, and death.

The number and variety of cycles seem to give an appearance of order to the world, like the inner workings of a grandfather clock. We may not yet know why or how they all work, but we count on them nonetheless. It’s a comfort that the sun will rise tomorrow; the cycle of day and night is as sure as anything we can know, just like the movement of precipitation from clouds to earth and back up again.

The tejon Creek Watershed

By Conservation Science Director Emeritus Michael White, PhD

Long a focus of human activity and travels in the Tehachapis, Tejon Creek has also become a focus of the Tejon Ranch Conservancy’s stewardship activities.

Prehistorically, a large Kitanemuk village occupied the mouth of Tejon Canyon. Tejon Canyon has long been used by travelers crossing the Tehachapis between the Central Valley and Antelope Valley, and this village was encountered by Spanish missionary Father Francisco Garcés during the first European entry into the San Joaquin Valley via Tejon Canyon.

Tejon Canyon was named by Ruiz expedition diarist Father José María Zalvidea in 1806 when he found a dead badger during their travel through the canyon. In more contemporary times, numerous homesteaders located in the canyon. There are still a couple of houses in the upper part of Tejon Canyon (inholdings within the Tejon Ranch property) that are occupied to this day.

Photo: Looking east toward the mouth of Tejon Canyon, as seen from the slopes of Bald Mountain. Chanac Creek, a tributary of Tejon Creek, is visible in middle of photo.

The Tejon Creek watershed occupies just over 32,000 acres (8 stream miles!) on Tejon Ranch, but significant areas of the watershed extend off the Ranch. For example, Chanac Creek is a tributary of Tejon Creek that originates off the Ranch in the Cummings Valley and Stallion Springs area.

What is a watershed? A watershed is an area of land that all drains to the same place. Rain and snow melt that fall within the Tejon Creek watershed flow downhill and eventually collect into lower Tejon Creek, which eventually disappears into the ground in the Great Central Valley (this location was historically known as the “Sinks of Tejon”). Stream channels generally get larger and carry more water as you move from the top of the watershed to the bottom.

Photo: Location of the Tejon Creek watershed on Tejon Ranch

Because of their very high conservation values, enhancing riparian habitats is a conservation priority of the Conservancy.

In large pastures, it can be difficult to control the seasonal movement of livestock especially when livestock water is not well distributed within them. During hot, dry summer months livestock are naturally attracted to the creek and shady riparian areas but use riparian areas less and adjacent grasslands to a greater degree in the cooler winter month when those grasslands are green from winter rains.

Photo: Both Tejon Creek (mid-photo) and Chanac Creek (lower) cross this portion of the Ranch which contains the Conservancy's Chanac Creek Enhancement Area.

When sufficient developed livestock water (i.e., troughs) is unavailable in upland areas, cattle depend on streams as a source of water, increasing the amount of time they spend in riparian areas and making seasonal grazing management difficult.

Changing the size and configuration of livestock pastures and developing new livestock water sources to replace streams can facilitate seasonal riparian grazing management, reducing adverse effects of livestock in riparian areas without having to completely exclude cattle year-round from riparian areas with expensive fencing.

Photo: Looking southeast across at the “gorge” of Tejon Creek, where Chanac Creek and Tejon Creek converge and head northwest toward the “Sinks of Tejon.”

The physical structure of riparian habitats is particularly important for many breeding bird species, which have evolved to specialize in using various parts of the habitat (e.g., understory or canopy specialists).

Riparian habitats can be degraded by disturbances such as over-grazing by livestock, rooting by feral pigs, and invasions of nonnative plants. By replacing, removing, or preventing vegetation in some layers of the habitat from regenerating, excessive disturbances can adversely affect native species that rely on these parts of the habitat. Because of their very high conservation values, enhancing riparian habitats is a conservation priority of the Conservancy.

While still analyzing the early results, the Conservancy has noted positive effects of the seasonal grazing management in the new Chanac pasture. Over three years of seasonal grazing management in the Chanac pasture, the diversity of plant species and the structural diversity of the habitat has increased, particularly with an increase in the vegetation understory layer, which was largely absent in many areas in the past.

Willow and cottonwood trees are surviving and growing well under the management regime, increasing in height by a couple of feet since 2019. The positive response of riparian habitat quality to seasonal grazing in this pasture suggests this practice may be generally beneficial to riparian conservation values in other parts of Tejon Creek and other watersheds.

Part of the Conservancy’s stewardship planning is looking at the feasibility of a subsequent phase of the Tejon Creek project that with additional ranching infrastructure would allow seasonal riparian grazing management in a downstream reach of Tejon Creek. Stay tuned for more information as the Conservancy continues to learn from this important, applied management project.

Left photo: A November 2017 photo of the riparian vegetation in Chanac Creek, shortly after a seasonal grazing management regime went into place.

Right photo: A November 2020 photo of the riparian vegetation in Chanac Creek, three years after seasonal grazing management went into place. Note the increased cover of understory and canopy plants.

You can help

Photo: A well site installed by the Conservancy in 2017 to facilitate better grazing management within the riparian Chanac Pasture.

Adaptive cattle grazing management, vegetation monitoring, wildlife cameras, avian surveys, and dedicated weeding have shown positive results in the 1,200-acre Chanac Creek Enhancement Area. Changes to species and habitat diversity are expected to continue. Supporting the seasonal grazing protocol is a well system feeding additional troughs away from the creek to keep cattle out of the riparian zones. The Conservancy, supported by private and public funds, has committed over $1,000,000 to this project.

A project of this scale not only benefits the immediate Tejon environment, but it serves as a model for improved grazing management throughout the West. Considering the thousands of acres of similar pastures actively grazed just in California, the impact can be significant. Precious riparian and creek refugia, critical to climate change adaptation, can be preserved or restored, allowing native species to flourish. Funds are required to maintain grazing and water infrastructure and continue monitoring of anticipated riparian zone improvements.

Photo by Chuck Noble

WILDFLOWER VIEWINGS: YES OR NO?

It’s a tough question during a pandemic.

We would love to say, right here, right now, that we will be taking visitors onto Tejon Ranch to see the wildflowers this spring.

Sadly, we can’t.

As always, wildflower viewing opportunities depend on nature with many variables contributing to what blooms, and when and how prolific the bloom is. But this year, as with last, we are all living in a time of danger and caution.

With the recent lifting of the Governor’s stay-at-home order, we are slightly more optimistic than we were before then.

But we aren’t making any promises or even making any plans right now.

If, and that’s still a very big “if,” it turns out that we can take you onto the Ranch to see wildflowers, we will let you know. Until then, stay healthy and keep your fingers crossed.

Thank you, Chris Gardner!

Note: We asked Chris to select some of his favorite photos for this story.

It is difficult to say goodbye to longtime docent Chris Gardner, who moved with his wife, Linda, to South Carolina last month.

Photo: Badger

In all, he has devoted, quite literally, thousands of hours leading tours, counting pronghorn, capturing stunning wildlife photos for use by the Conservancy (especially on Facebook), penning articles for this newsletter, helping with endless stewardship chores and always, always, being willing to go that extra mile and lend a hand when we truly needed it.

We will miss Chris inestimably, but he will be much closer to his daughter and his Florida roots, as well as miles of coastline to explore and photograph.

Photo: Pronghorn

Chris got started with the Conservancy in 2013.

“Like so many others, I wondered what was behind the fence. Then, late one afternoon in the autumn of 2013, I saw an announcement to become a docent for the Tejon Ranch Conservancy.” Chris attended the meeting and became a member of the very first class the Conservancy offered to become a docent.

Photo: Osprey

In the years that Chris volunteered, he came to know the Ranch quite well and the cross-ranch tour was one of his specialties. Chris’ knowledge of plant and animal life of the different ecosystems was combined with his love of the Ranch’s history. Birding groups asked for Chris by name when making reservations. Of the staff and docents, few know the Ranch better. Inevitably, there are certain places he holds special. His favorite place?

“The high country,” Chris says. “I never tired of hearing the Rocky Mountain elk bugle, or even hearing the wind in the trees.”

Photo: Ground squirrel

Chris has seen plenty of wildlife on the Ranch during his tenure. He remembers one incident in particular that stands out.

“Once, with Bill Lydecker, we encountered an interaction between a young pronghorn buck as he tried to approach a harem protected by a mature buck. The pronghorn were so engrossed in the encounter that they completely ignored us. Watching their behavior was simply fascinating.”

Photo: Roadrunner

While the work of any Conservancy docent may not always feel like work, in fact, the Conservancy’s ability to perform its mission would be greatly diminished were it not for the incredible support and hard work of our docents and volunteers. Chris feels his time here was worth it. He finally knows what is behind the fence.

Chris adds this: “A whole new world opened up. I got opportunities to interact with very knowledgeable people, such as Scot Pipkin, Mike White, and Ellery Mayence. Then, I had the opportunity to share what I had learned with others during public access tours.”

Photo: Nursing Pronghorn

The Panofsky Wilson Preserve, photo by Mitchell Coleman

A Legacy of Preservation

Frederick Melville DuMond, as painted by his daughter Camille in 1907.

Frederick Melville DuMond was a Paris-trained painter with a reputation as an adventurer and romantic. In 1916, at the age of 29, he purchased 20 acres along Caliente Creek in Kern County for $10, ostensibly to graze sheep. Landscapes of the Mojave Desert were more to his liking. He never did run sheep on the property, but it remained in his family for a number of generations, used for picnicking and camping.

Location of the Panofsky Wilson Preserve

The property is located at the northern edge of Tejon Ranch, outside the town of Caliente, California. It sits in the Caliente Creek channel and floodplain, supporting mature Fremont cottonwood (Populus fremontii) and willow (Salix spp), riparian vegetation with bladderpod (Peritoma arborea) and scalebroom (Lepidospartum squamatum) in the adjacent uplands. Caliente Creek is the only place where the three species of legless lizard co-occur: Anniella stebbinsi, A. grinnelli, and A. pulchra with A. stebbinsi already confirmed on the property. It also contains the federally and state-listed Endangered Bakersfield cactus (Opuntia basilaris treleasei), as well as the San Joaquin coachwhip (Coluber flagellum ruddockii) snake, a California Species of Special Concern, in the vicinity of the property.

From left, Laura Pavliscak (former Conservancy Stewardship Manager), Steven Panofsky, Adele (DuMond) Panofsky, Susan Panofsky, and Scot Pipkin (former Conservancy Public Access Manager) following a spring picnic at the property in 2015.

In July of 2015, DuMond’s granddaughters, Adele Panofsky and Andree Wilson, generously donated their family’s parcel to the Tejon Ranch Conservancy to be preserved.

The property is ecologically significant as it lies between the Tejon Ranch boundary and the Southern Pacific Railroad right-of-way. On the other side of the right-of-way lies the Tollhouse (Rudnick) Ranch, currently owned by The Nature Conservancy. Thus, the Panofsky property incrementally contributes to landscape connectivity in the region by connecting Tejon Ranch to other conserved properties.

The Tehachapi Pass, where the property is located, is also a unique biogeographic setting. The pass cuts through the Tehachapi Mountains and Southern Sierra Nevada foothills to connect the Great Central Valley ecological region with the Mojave Desert. It is therefore an important transition area and point of contact between closely related species.

Savanna Meyer, Eagle Scout candidate

In November 2020, Eagle Scout candidate Savanna Meyer, with help from her Troop 2119 of Bakersfield, constructed among other things, a primitive campground and interpretive hiking trail on the property. She also added new signage for the officially named Panofsky Wilson Preserve in honor of DuMond’s heirs and donors. The preserve is open by reservation only and, to date, has already been used by a number of visiting researchers conducting studies on the property itself or on the adjacent Tollhouse Ranch.

This property will be a boon to the wildlife that inhabits it and crosses it, as well as to visitors and researchers long into the future, thanks to the granddaughters of the artist DuMond.

OSPREY SIGHTING

Story and photos by Senior Docent Steve Justus

Many of the expert birders whom we take on Tejon Ranch have called it the best place for raptor sightings in Southern California.

We have sightings of raptors and other bird species that you may never see in the urban environment you may live in. Every trip we make to the Ranch seems to present something new and exciting! A recent trip was no exception.

Senior Docent Chris Gardner and I had just such a surprise sighting at Reservoir 2 on the Ranch.

Osprey visits are not frequent. When we see one, it is a special day. Since Ospreys’ diet is 99% fish, Reservoir 2, with its decent fish populations, is a good stopover.

Ospreys are larger birds with a wingspan of 5 feet. Their arched wing shape is gull-like, which facilitates hovering and diving from 30 to 100 feet. Like owls, their toes are of equal length. Long talons and gripping pads all work together to snag and hold on to slippery fish. As they dive into the water, their nostrils close to keep water out. Then they carry the fish head-first to reduce wind resistance!

We are sure you will agree that this is a beautiful and quite interesting bird.

Photo by Mitchell Coleman

the infectious parlance of cow country

A few Western expressions

Bone orchard - a slang name for a cemetery.

Cash in his six-shooter - An outlaw's phrase for holding up a bank.

Hundred-and-sixty - A homestead, commonly of 160 acres.

Rocky Mountain canary - another name for a burro.

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

VIDEO: An Enjoyable Collection of Animal Behavior

See MORE videos like this.

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info@tejonconservancy.org

(661) 245-1001

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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