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Friday, February 28, 2014

Staff Interview: Jen Browne

Jen helping with a bird count on the Ranch. What doesn't she do?
Jen is the Operations Manager for Tejon Ranch Conservancy. She has worked for this organization since its inception, having been recruited from Tejon Ranch Company. Her attention to detail and ability to multi-task are what enable us to do the work that we do!

Where are you from? What’s your background?
I am a California native and third generation Irish, born at the original Cedars Sinai hospital in Los Angeles. I lived the first 6 years of my life in La Crescenta, CA, but with Doctor’s orders, the family moved me, the only child, to the much better air quality of Ventura County. I grew up in a pretty small town, Newbury Park, CA and stayed there until my early twenties. Growing up, I was a total “tomboy”… never scared of dirt or potential injury. I owned and trained horses for many years in Newbury Park and Hidden Valley, CA and successfully competed in many classifications including Hunter/Jumpers, English & Western Pleasure and Equitation.

After I graduated high school, my mother sent me off to Europe for three months with a passport, some money, and a Eurail pass. I was reluctant to return home. Once I returned, I attended Moorpark College where I earned my Associates Degree in Humanities. I ventured on to San Francisco State University to study International Relations because I had fallen madly in love with travel. The thought of being some sort of international attachĂ© intrigued me…like a female 007!

Well, life doesn’t always turn out the way you dream, so I wound up working full time. I landed a job as a manager at Abercrombie & Fitch in San Francisco, and alas this took over, and I didn’t finish school. I wound up missing home, and the San Francisco fog wasn’t helping. I moved back and opened up the Abercrombie & Fitch in Century City… not single-handedly, of course.

As I was looking for something with a shorter commute, I stumbled into a little shop called Marlow Artistic Furnishings in Westlake Village. It was their first day open, I think. I asked if they were hiring, and I started that same day! For about a decade, I had worked as a manager, designer, furniture and lighting restorer for a very large celebrity clientele, managing Westlake Village and Studio City locations off and on. After leaving Marlow, I was a design and construction assistant for a 17,000sq/ft estate in Bel Air, CA.

In 2006 I was on my way up to Pine Mountain Club with my new wonderful dog, Miss Caddie (Cadillac) to help my mother with my ailing grandfather. I was lucky enough to find a job in the area and at none other than Tejon Ranch Company! I worked there for over two years, and as a project manager, helped with the coordination of the 2008 Tejon Ranch Conservation and Land Use Agreement. This led to the formation of the Tejon Ranch Conservancy for whom I now work as the Operations Manager.

I currently live in Simi Valley, CA with my fiancĂ©, Davin, and dog (same one, Miss Caddie) and happily commute to Tejon. I love the drive, actually…I get the beauty of Tejon Ranch by day and the pleasure of living back in my home county.

You are the only Conservancy staff member who has worked for both Tejon Ranch Company and the Conservancy. What is your perspective on the collaboration between the two organizations?
It’s AMAZING! Who would have thought that Tejon Ranch Company would ever even consider 90% of their land for conservation? It’s an historic agreement between a landowner of a “working landscape” (meaning, the entire 270,000 acres are still grazed. They have mining, agriculture, filming, hunting, oil and mineral extraction, industrial development, etc…) and environmental groups. The two worlds, normally polar opposites of each other, attended meetings (some happier than others) for two years to come to this… and even remained friends. I am most impressed and honored to have been a minute part of this process, and I hope that others can learn from it.

Since the Agreement in 2008, the Tejon Ranch Company and the Tejon Ranch Conservancy have worked extremely well together to maintain this relationship and coordinate all access to the Ranch and its beauty. It’s like a marriage now, in a way. Or a dance, if you will. If we want to have a research group out on a Saturday, and there is a hunting event going on, we have to coordinate to ensure the safety of all parties. If we want to put fence around a riparian area (stream) to keep cattle out, we work closely with the Ranch and the cattle lessees to make sure everyone’s needs are met. We work together. It’s really cool to be part of growing this into the largest contiguous Land Trust in California, let alone this side of the Mississippi.

I hear you put together the lengthy application for Tejon Ranch Conservancy to become a member of the national Land Trust Alliance. How in-depth is it, actually? Did any questions take you by surprise?
I did, with the help of our Executive Director, put together the two 4” binders of paperwork that began the application process. It was very in-depth and time consuming, but will be very well worth it. As a new land trust we got lucky! There are a lot of land trusts out there with age old conservation easements that had to go hunt down paperwork, which we were fortunate not to have to do. The most difficult part was to explain the very complicated agreement and our financial structure. I guess my surprise was that the Land Trust Alliance Commission didn’t think we were as complicated as we thought! Whew!

It is a very helpful exercise and will allow us to keep to a structure of excellence… and I like that part very much. We hope to be accredited by the end of this year! 

Is there anything in particular on Tejon Ranch you are excited to see?
A mountain lion! 

Please describe one amazing nature moment you had in 2013.
Besides all of them? I think it was maybe during one of the bird counts that I saw a golden eagle take out and lunch on a grey fox. Or maybe sitting atop a null looking down on a beautiful field of wildflowers, watching violet-green swallows dive together. Oh, on a driving tour of the Ranch, I saw a young black bear playing in a stream. They are all amazing. I just wish I got out of the office more often to have them, but even then, at least I get to watch deer graze outside my office window.

We at the Conservancy are pretty big audiophiles. Can you list 5 of your favorite albums?

This may be the hardest question! I have always had music in my life. I believe it is food for the soul, and just as diverse as my taste in food, my musical taste runs the gamut. I grew up around my grandmother listening to Gene Krupa and Nina Simone… to my mother listening to the Everly Brothers, Emmy Lou Harris and Linda Ronstadt; my father playing Waylon and Willie and Bob Seger…

If I HAD to pick 5 “favorites” (I will keep to more recent music to narrow it down a bit) they would be Ryan Adams – Heartbreaker, Mumford & Sons – Sigh No More, Paul Simon – Graceland, Sting – Mercury Falling and pretty much anything with Dave Grohl. But then there’s Beck, Morcheeba, Sade, Queen, Tool, Laura Marling… and on and on and on.

We like to talk about how Tejon Ranch is at the intersection of 4 of CA’s major eco-regions (southwestern Ca, SJV, Sierra Nevada, Mojave Desert). Do you have a favorite one?
Again, I don’t really do “favorites.” It really depends on the season for me. One of the fantastic things about this place is that every year, every season, it looks different. I love the desert in the fall… after the rain when the fall colors of buckwheat make you feel warm. I love the “milky way” of wildflowers that blanket the San Joaquin Valley floor, especially when the fog is holding in the liquid color. Atop the ridges you can see for miles and miles... I love the colors of black oaks when the leaves seem pink and the bark, steel grey…  Tejon Canyon, where this lush grove comes out of nowhere and you feel like there MUST be real life hobbits and elves. Tolkien would be proud.
I just appreciate being able to enjoy these places on the Ranch… uninhibited by the hustle and bustle that flanks it.  

Besides Tejon Ranch, can you list 5 California locations you love?
Sure… I’m a HUGE fan of the coast, good wine and food: Big Sur, San Francisco, Cambria, Napa and Santa Barbara. 

Love the dress, Jen!