Tejon RancH Conservancy eNews June 2017

On the Ranch

The Tejon Ranch is simply an amazing place. Maybe “simply” is not the right word because it is actually quite complex. It is hundreds of parcels of land, acquired and conglomerated since the mid-1800s, now comprising the largest privately owned property in California. It is ranching, agriculture, hunting, and more. It is also, thankfully, 90 percent conserved with 240,000 acres under a complex conservation agreement. It is four major western ecologies coming together to form one of the nation’s most interesting biodiversity hotspots. And finally, it is also the responsibility of the Tejon Ranch Conservancy, working with the landowner, to protect and enhance the ecological value of this quite remarkable landscape for future generations, and for every life-form living or passing through here.

So, you can see, it’s far from simple. What’s not complex is the sheer beauty of the place—the essence of California. No matter the season, if you admire the western landscape, you cannot help but be struck by Tejon. Standing on a hillside, the wind to your back, feet planted, and looking around, many times all you can see in every direction is Tejon. Distant ridges, tumbling hillsides, verdant canyons. Glance up and you may see a condor soaring softly against the sky, a graceful silhouette, or a hawk tearing a streak towards its prey, a skillful hunter.

Our staff and volunteers often venture deep into the Ranch, traveling roads, trails, and often just steep footpaths, as we monitor easements; help researchers look for rare plants; check wildlife cameras for stolen glimpses of mountain lion, elk, pigs, and bear; walk fences; and complete myriad other tasks that help the Conservancy keep an eye on this place, and learn from it more every day. If you haven’t yet joined as a member, or if it’s time to renew, please do so today. You are an important part of our team in caring for this place.

We hope you enjoy our monthly eNews. It’s our way of sharing what we love, what we learn, and what we care for: the humbling nature of Tejon. This month we’ll share more about our successful wildflower season, the mysteries of ecological convergence, stories from the citizen science Pronghorn team about springtime fawning, and, of course, great wildlife camera videos from deep in the Ranch.

This month we also welcome Chris Fabbro, our new Public Access/Education Manager, who will soon be a familiar face on the Ranch. As always, we love hearing from you and even better, seeing you on tours, hikes, and volunteer days up here. We’re just a short distance from Los Angeles… but once through the gates, so very far away.

Please join today as a member.

See you on the Ranch!

Bob Reid

President and CEO

At the Convergence of Ecoregions

By Conservancy Science Director Mike White, PhD

One of the things that we at the Conservancy like to talk about when discussing the biodiversity of Tejon Ranch is its location at the “convergence of ecoregions.” What does that mean and why does it matter?

An ecoregion, short for ecological region, is a relatively large area that supports characteristic and unique groups of organisms. For example, if you have been there, you know that the Mojave Desert ecoregion supports plants and animals that are very different from those that occur in the Sierra Nevada ecoregion. This is because the climate, topography, geology and soils, and evolutionary history of the land within the Mojave region is different than that of the Sierra Nevada region, and different assemblages of plants and animals have evolved in those regions as a result.

Descriptions of ecoregions are developed by multidisciplinary teams of scientists to provide information to support the work of natural resource planners and managers. In places where ecoregions meet each other or converge, plants and animals from the adjacent ecoregions can co-occur, resulting in higher numbers of species (i.e., a higher biodiversity). Often unique groupings of species drawing from both ecoregions occur in the convergence zone as well.

Jepson Floristic regions of California. From "A Flora of California."

The 270,000-acre Tejon Ranch sits at a unique location in California where four of California’s 10 major floristically defined ecological regions converge. These ecoregions are: Mojave Desert, Sierra Nevada, Southwestern California, and Great Central Valley. The convergence of these four ecoregions at Tejon Ranch is in large part responsible for the very high biological diversity that we see on the Ranch. Since species from each of these ecoregions occur on Tejon, the overall number of species is higher than if the Ranch was located within any one of the ecoregions alone.

As an illustration of the high biodiversity at Tejon, Nick Jensen—a doctoral student at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden—has been developing a “Flora of Tejon”, or a list of every plant present on the Ranch. (Or at least those that Nick has been able to find in four years!) Nick has identified 1,030 taxa (species, subspecies, and varieties) of plants on Tejon, of which 885 (or 86%) are native. This represents over 13% of the native plants known throughout California, on a piece of property 0.25% of the area of the State. This is what conservationists refer to as a “biodiversity hotspot,” or an area that has a disproportionately high number of species relative to its area. Biodiversity hotspots are often targeted by conservationists because of their high conservation “bang for the buck” and Tejon is no exception.

Jepson floristic ecoregions converging on Tejon Ranch (red outline).
Grasslands and oak woodlands of the Great Central Valley.
Blue oak woodlands are characteristic of the foothills around the Central Valley.
White fir forests are characteristic of high elevations of the Sierra ecoregion.
Joshua trees and yellow-blooming rabbitbrush, characteristic of the Mojave Desert ecoregion, co-occur with grey pines and Valley oaks from the Sierra Nevada and Great Central Valley ecoregions in Sacatara Canyon.

The convergence of ecoregions also produces unique groups or communities of species. By definition, we are at the edges of ecoregions in areas where they converge. So, species that are characteristic of an ecoregion, think Joshua trees in the Mojave, are often at the limits of their range in convergence zones, and can co-occur with their neighbors from the adjacent ecoregion. Therefore, in these ecoregional convergence zones, we have unique mixtures of species that we often don’t see anywhere else. A classic case at Tejon is the co-occurrence of Joshua trees, rabbitbrush, Valley oaks, grey pines, and chaparral shrubs representing the convergence of the Mojave, Sierra Nevada, and Southwestern California ecoregions.

Joshua trees and yellow-blooming rabbitbrush, characteristic of the Mojave Desert ecoregion, co-occur with grey pines and Valley oaks from the Sierra Nevada and Great Central Valley ecoregions in Tejon’s Sacatara Canyon.

Joshua trees are characteristic of the Mojave ecoregion.

As hard as it is to imagine, it is also important to remember that the boundaries of these ecoregions and the characteristic suites of species they support have changed over very long time frames from millennia of plate tectonics, mountain building and erosion, changes in global temperatures and ocean circulation patterns, and ongoing evolutionary processes. (Remember Tejon Ranch was once ocean-front property!) The biodiversity that we see today at places like Tejon is just a snapshot in time of a long, complex, and ongoing process unfolding around us, shaping the biodiversity of the landscape. We at the Conservancy are stewarding this biodiversity for future generations and hope that you will join our efforts by becoming a member today.

Components of a Good Wildflower Bloom

How the 2017 Spring Bloom on Tejon Ranch Compares to Previous Years

By Conservancy Science Manager C. Ellery Mayence

With the 2017 Tejon Ranch spring wildflower season rapidly drawing to a close, its a good time to reflect on the season that was, a season that ranged from amazing in some places to somewhat lackluster in others. By way of the Conservancy’s many wildflower events, including public, member only, and California Native Plant Society outings, we were asked on numerous occasions to describe the quality of the 2017 season and discuss the ingredients necessary for a “Super Bloom”—a term that has come into vogue over the past two years. With abundant winter precipitation, Tejon Ranch surely would have had a stellar wildflower season—right? Is 2017 the best wildflower season in years? How does the 2017 bloom compare to past years when drought conditions were present? Does more rain equate to more flowers or simply more non-native grass growth? Fundamental to this discussion are 1) whether a species is an annual or a perennial, 2) precipitation timing and amount, 3) temperature, and 4) soil type, among other factors. Though beyond the scope of this piece, one should note that all these factors interactively, rather than individually, affect plant responses. I’ll focus on annual versus perennial species and soil type.

Seeds of annual species (e.g., fiddlenecks, popcorn flowers) that flower in March and April generally germinate by late December or January, noting that all the seed in the seedbank (those seeds in the soil) does not germinate in a given year regardless of the environmental conditions. Some seed remains dormant to ensure the long-term persistence of the species. Those that germinate require relatively consistent moisture for blooms to be of Super Bloom quality; otherwise they will be diminutive and struggle to reach their potential. The 2017 winter was wet until late February, after which scant precipitation fell for six to seven weeks. For many species this dry spell had a detrimental effect on flower abundance and quality. This, in part, explains why obligate clay soil species (e.g., monolopia) bloomed so impressively—as clay soil, owing to its physical properties, has greater moisture retention. Comparatively, species inhabiting sandier, well-drained soil fared poorly as the drying intensified, largely because of insufficient soil moisture at critical times in their phenology (i.e., flowering). Perennial species are less affected by short-term variability in precipitation, and being more deeply rooted, often benefit more from early season rain that can be unavailable to later blooming, shallow-rooted annual species. For example, bladderpod and saltbush, both perennial shrubs, had an incredibly productive year even though they too largely flowered (and fruited) long after the winter rain ceased, demonstrating the benefit of deeper, more extensive root systems and their ability to exploit deeply held moisture.

This year’s precipitation pattern also explains the robust non-native grass growth on the San Joaquin Valley side of the Ranch. Most of the non-native grasses on Tejon are cool season grasses (i.e., they germinate and grow quickly, early in the wet season). The result was a very productive grass year in many places, which effectively swamped out many of the native flowering forbs (generally described as broad-leaved flowering plants like many wildflower species, as opposed to grasses) that otherwise would have been more apparent. The exceptions were early blooming species at the lowest elevation and warmest part of the Ranch (i.e., Comanche Point) that matured simultaneously or soon after winter rain tapered off, allowing them to keep pace with the non-native grasses.

As Conservancy Docent Chris Gardener often points out, there are at least 38 factors that determine how impressive a given year’s bloom will be—and we as scientists and flower enthusiasts have identified and understand approximately 13 of them. Regardless of the accuracy of this statement, Chris is absolutely correct that many variables and factors must align for decent wildflower displays, much less for a rare Super Bloom to occur. There is no doubt that other areas of the state experienced better wildflower displays this year (e.g., Carrizo Plain, Anza Borrego State Park), but as botanist Nick Jensen, who has studied the Ranch’s flora for nearly five years, often proclaims, Tejon Ranch routinely has some of the most reliable and consistently impressive blooms in the state.

The California Naturalist

By California Naturalist Paula Harvey

A Short Review of California Mammals

Of all the vertebrates (animals with backbones), mammals are unique in that they have fur, a variety of tooth types, and feed their young milk. The length of mammals ranges from 1.2 inches for the bumblebee bat, to 98 feet for the blue whale.

The functions of fur

The primary purpose of fur is to regulate the body’s temperature, called “thermoregulation.” But it is also used for protection, as with the spines of a porcupine; for camouflage in the case of a fawn’s spots; for receiving sensory information, like whiskers on a bobcat; for communication, as with the rump patch on the pronghorn (see below); and for waterproofing, as seen in the dense fur of the California sea otter.

Hollow pronghorn hair serves as an excellent insulator. It is shed throughout the year. (Photo by Paula Harvey)
A pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) alerts the herd to possible danger by erecting the white hair on its rump. (Photo by Chris Gardner)

Types of teeth

Mammals are heterodonts; they have different kinds of teeth designed to do different things. Incisors are the front teeth used for cutting. Canines are pointed and used for ripping and tearing. Premolars and molars are used for chewing and grinding food. There are even teeth for lifting, for example, the tusks of the elephant.

Reproduction

Most mammals are viviparous: they give birth to live young. The exceptions are the monotremes, a weird group of mammals that includes the platypus and echidna (spiny anteater), which both lay eggs. Viviparous mammals are broken down into two groups. Marsupials give birth to premature young that climb into a sac called the marsupium, attach themselves to a nipple, and develop there. The only marsupial in California is the opossum. Most mammals, however, are placental. They have a longer gestation period and are born fully developed. The name comes from the placenta, the sac that connects the fetus to the uterine wall, delivering nutrients and oxygen to the fetus. Once mammals are born, they rely on milk for their sustenance. Milk is produced from mammary glands, specialized sweat glands.

Here are some of the many mammals living on Tejon Ranch:

Mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus californicus). (Photo by Paula Harvey)
Young coyote (Canis latrans). (Photo by Chris Gardner)
Rocky Mountain elk (Cervus canadensis nelsoni). (Photo by Chris Gardner)
Black-tailed jackrabbit (Lepus californicus). (Photo by Paula Harvey)
American black bear (Ursus americanus). (Photo by Chris Gardner)
Feral pigs (Sus scrofa) and cattle (Bos taurus) also inhabit the Ranch. (Photo by Paula Harvey)
American badger (Taxidea taxus), the namesake of Tejon in Spanish.
Striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis)
Bobcat (Lynx rufus)
Gray foxes (Urocyon cinereoargenteus)
Townsend's big-eared bat (Corynorhinus townsendii)

Learn more about California ecology, or share your knowledge like California Naturalists and Conservancy Docents Chris Gardner or Paula Harvey have, by becoming a Conservancy Volunteer. Contact Chris Fabbro at (661) 248-2400, x105 or by email: cfabbro@tejonconservancy.org.

Welcome Chris Fabbro!

Chris Fabbro, Public Access/Education Manager

Chris Fabbro comes to the Tejon Ranch Conservancy with a range of related outdoor and volunteer management experience, but most importantly, a real passion for the Conservancy mission. Having spent the last sixteen years with the U.S. Forest Service, twelve of these in nearby Angeles National Forest, he has led multiple initiatives and activities, including hundreds of events, and worked with over 900 volunteers.

Chris started an innovative artist-in-residence program, led camp-building efforts, tree plantings, safety trainings, and many tours and hikes, helping the public enjoy the beauty of the local mountains. He also managed 500 miles of trails and over 250 trail volunteers, leading work events to build and maintain trails and public access facilities, all programs that fit perfectly with the Conservancy’s plans.

Serving as a Fire Prevention Captain, Chris coordinated community outreach, public and school forums, Fire Safe Councils, homeowner associations, volunteer groups, and regional events in Spanish and English.

“For years I looked out over the Tejon Ranch from my cabin in the Tehachapis and admired the vast open space of the Ranch. I was also familiar with the historic 2008 agreement that created the Conservancy… and to now be part of this incredible place is really exciting,” said Chris when meeting with several volunteers.

Public Access and Education are a core part of the Conservancy along with Science and Stewardship, and we look forward to Chris expanding pubic access events, tours, and getting the new Conservancy campground started. Please join us in welcoming Chris Fabbro to the staff and volunteer Conservancy team. He can be reached at (661) 699-2085, or by email at cfabbro@tejonconservancy.org.

Pronghorn Fawning

Text and Photos by California Naturalist and Conservancy Docent Chris Gardner

One of the iconic species of the Antelope Valley and here at Tejon Ranch is the pronghorn. Pronghorn are the fastest land mammal in North America, capable of reaching sustained speeds of fifty-five to sixty miles per hour. Males can be identified by their more prominent horns. A yearling buck’s horns will reach almost to the height of its own rather large ears. Mating season is late August to early October. The gestation period is 252 days, almost eight and a half months.

Left to right, buck, four fawns (born Spring 2015), and does.

On Tejon Ranch, fawns are born mid-April to mid-June. A pregnant doe will separate from the herd, often finding an isolated canyon with adequate ground cover to conceal the fawns. Does usually have one fawn with the first pregnancy and two in subsequent pregnancies.

Pregnant doe shedding her winter coat.

Fawns remain completely immobile for their first five days of life. Does hide their fawns and remain watchful to protect the fawns from predators, such as coyotes and golden eagles. The fawns are hidden until they are 20 days old. After that, the does and fawns rejoin the herd; at three weeks of age fawns are capable of keeping up with the rest of the herd.

From left to right, one male and two female fawns at five months old.

For the last three years (2014-2016), the pronghorns of Tejon Ranch have produced four fawns per year. On occasion, it is possible to identify an individual fawn and follow its progress. In April 2015, a single male was born, the only male that year. In September 2015, a doe was observed with her two fawns, the single male included.

In March 2016, the same male approached the observation vehicle, appearing to want to show off. We were treated to a twenty-minute display of his agility and speed (photos below).

We’ll be sharing more pronghorn news with you in future issues!

One scene, four seasons

By Conservancy Biologist Ben Teton

Wilderness photography and videography are some of the most powerful tools for promoting the intrinsic value of the natural world. I could (and gladly would) wax poetic on the beauty and ecological significance of an apex predator like the mountain lion, and in 5,000 words bore you to tears describing what a well-placed trap camera could capture in a single image.

There are, however, limitations to these types of unfiltered visual representations, as they present a snapshot of a place or a species that often fails to capture the dynamic cycles of change that drive the natural world from day into night, season into season, year into year, across time. These processes are perennial and ever-present, although difficult to capture in a single image or video sequence.

This month I hope to capture the color and character of these temporal changes by sharing videos taken from the same location at different times of the year. It is remarkable to see such dramatic change in a region known for very little seasonal variation relative to higher latitudinal environments.

Cougar family in summer on Tejon Ranch captured on August 28, 2016.

Cougar family in fall on Tejon Ranch captured on October 2, 2016.

Rocky Mountain elk in winter on Tejon Ranch captured on January 21, 2017.

Invasive wild pigs in spring on Tejon Ranch captured on May 18, 2017.

We have 68 wildlife cameras around Tejon Ranch which help our conservation work and provide a rare glimpse into our natural world. Please support the Conservancy's wildlife camera work.

Click here to learn more.

Thank you!

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

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