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Friday, January 31, 2014

Staff Interview: Dr. Mike White

Mike with his game face on
Mike White has driven past Tejon Ranch his whole life and has been involved in its conservation since 2002. Now as the Conservation Science Director for Tejon Ranch Conservancy, Mike gets to develop a comprehensive vision for how to maintain the ecosystem integrity of this extraordinary property. You can get a glimpse of this vision by checking out the Ranch-wide Management Plan on the Conservancy's website:

Where are you from? What’s your background?
I am a third generation Southern Californian.  I was born in Los Angeles, grew up in the San Fernando and Santa Clarita valleys, and moved to the San Diego area for college where I studied ecology at UCSD.

You’ve been involved with conservation on Tejon Ranch for a while now. What would you say is the most important aspect of the 2008 Ranch-wide Agreement?
I would say that protecting 240,000-acres of habitat was a pretty important aspect of the Agreement!  However, to my mind demonstrating that the environmental community and a large private landowner can find common ground and commit to work together to further conservation is one of the most important results of the Agreement.

The website says you just completed drafting the Ranch-wide Management Plan. What are the top conservation priorities for Tejon Ranch Conservancy over the next few years?
Our top priorities are to work with the cattle lessees at Tejon to enable grazing management that can enhance riparian and wetland habitats and benefit grassland species such as native wildflowers, blunt-nosed leopard lizard, San Joaquin kit fox, and burrowing owl. We are also focusing our attention on better understanding the feral pig population on the Ranch and the ecological damages they cause to inform development of pig management strategies.

Is there anything in particular on Tejon Ranch you are excited to see?
At the present time I would really just like to see it rain!  While I am easily excited by most everything biological on the Ranch, I am very interested to see the results of some of the botanical work that has been started.  Range extensions for several species have been documented, and there is a possibility of finding new undescribed taxa.  Even if the Ranch doesn’t support undescribed species, it will almost certainly change the way we think about the plant taxonomy in this part of California.

Please describe one amazing nature moment you had in 2013.
Watching two mountain lions crossing right in front of my truck one late afternoon.

We at the Conservancy are pretty big audiophiles. Can you list 5 of your favorite albums?
So in my heart I am still a 1970s rocker.  One of the most amazing but not well known rock albums from that time is David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane.  I like most anything by the Grateful Dead, but the Europe 72 albums are a great and easily accessible sample of that period.  I just recently listened to Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks, which is timeless stuff.  My wife Jerre and I really enjoy Mana’s Unplugged, one of our standard road-trip albums.  A cool indie band out of San Diego is The Vision of a Dying World, and they have a great album called Skelephone Call from the Eastern Side that is worth looking for.

We like to talk about how Tejon Ranch is at the confluence of 4 of Ca’s major ecoregions (southwestern Ca, SJV, Sierra Nevada, Mojave Desert). Do you have a favorite one?
I really love seeing how the ecoregions “slosh” together, but my favorite ecoregion is probably the Mojave Desert (Antelope Valley).  There is always a diversity of colors and textures that I enjoy seeing and plenty of secret spots to explore!

Besides Tejon Ranch, can you list 5 California locations you love?
Anza Borrego Desert State Park, eastern Sierra Nevada, Tahoe Basin, Central Coast region, and my private stretch of beach in Leucadia.

Mike contemplates the future of Tejon Ranch while looking down Bronco Canyon

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Wildlife Wednesday: The wild pigs of Tejon Ranch

Guests on Tejon Ranch Conservancy’s events know well that we aren’t the biggest fans of the wild pigs (Sus scrofa) that inhabit the property. Aside from being non-native species, the pigs are: 

1.                 Destructive- rooting and creating erosion on steep slopes, wallowing in creek bottoms,       and possibly even eating some of the rare plants and animals of the ranch-
2.             Prolific- females are sexually viable at an early age, have a short gestation, and give birth to multiple young at once.

Today’s Wildlife Wednesday shows a sounder (yes, a group of pigs is called a sounder) running through Tunis creek late last summer. Although the piglets are admittedly pretty cute, when we see them, we think about the acorns they are eating, which means fewer for the deer, black bear, jays, and acorn woodpeckers; not to mention the pressure that puts on regeneration of Tejon Ranch’s 80,000 acres of oak woodland. We think about the hillsides torn apart by the pigs’ rooting for bulbs in spring.

Fortunately, because the 2008 Ranch-wide Agreement which established Tejon Ranch Conservancy was so forward-thinking, there is something we can do about it. Already, the Conservancy is collaborating with the Tejon Ranch Company’s hunting program to expand the harvest of pigs. The Conservancy identified wild pigs as a principal threat to native biodiversity in its 2013 Ranch-wide Management Plan. We will be spending the next several years trying to understand the geography and ecology of the wild pig population on Tejon Ranch, which will inform our management strategies. Already, we are benefiting from the work of a UCSB Bren School of Environmental Management project all about the pigs on Tejon Ranch. 

Understanding these complex behaviors, demographics, and implications will take some time. We are hiring a Wildlife Technician to start monitoring pigs and the damage they cause. Despite the long-term nature of this issue, Tejon Ranch Conservancy is excited to help advance the management of wild pig populations for the benefit of agencies, partners, and interested parties throughout the state. To find out a little bit more about these fascinating creatures and their impacts on habitats across the country, check out these resources:

2013 Bren School Tejon Ranch Wild Pig Project Page:

California Department of Fish and Wildlife Wild Pig Management Program Description Page:

Missisippi State University Wild Pig Info Site: