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Friday, June 27, 2014

Tejon Ranch Conservancy Receives Land Trust Alliance Accreditation! By Tom Maloney, Executive Director

We are very pleased to report that the Land Trust Accreditation Commission has accepted the Tejon Ranch Conservancy as an Accredited Land Trust!  This achievement is testament to the vision set forth in the 2008 Tejon Ranch Conservation and Land Use Plan that thoughtfully considered the corporate governance and organizational independence that would be necessary for the Conservancy to join the land trusts that demonstrate best practices in their conservation activities.  (Notably, the six year anniversary of the Agreement was just 10 days ago!)

Many people are responsible for this achievement including the awesome suite of brilliant pro bono attorneys at Gibson Dunn that have provided immeasurable support to the Conservancy since its inception.  The deep collaboration with Tejon Ranch Company and Resource Group staff and counsel has also been instrumental in the Conservancy’s development.  However, it should be noted that all of that support and guidance needed an engine to drive the accreditation process.  That engine was Jennifer Browne who assembled the materials and coordinated the preparation of the necessary documents.  THANK YOU JENNIFER!

For more information on the importance of LTA Accreditation and the role of Land Trusts for conservation, check out these resources:

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Teton Tuesday: Family

In honor of Father's Day and families everywhere, this week we're going to look at some of the families that make their homes out on the ranch. As I continue to spend my evenings stumbling across Tejon’s many quiet ridgelines, I am often amazed that such a wild place exists so close to the glowing hive of humanity that on dark nights illumes our Southern horizon. It is hard to imagine two more acutely dissimilar and unrelated environments neighboring one another. Yet similarities do exist. At their most basic level, each can be seen as an arena for survival among its inhabitants. The struggle for territory, resources and procreation is as real and visceral in the woods as it is in the inner-city, and for each individual participant, the stakes are often life and death. As I compare these largely diametrically opposed worlds, I can see no more universally critical force than the power of family. It doesn’t matter if you are a lady or a ladybug, a buck or a guy trying to make a buck, you have a much better shot at making it in this world if you have friends and family around to help you along the way.
Wild pigs are arguably the most prolific large mammal on the ranch, despite being the most actively hunted. Their success is due in large part to the efficacy of the sounder, a group of extended family that allows otherwise defenseless piglets and juveniles to develop into adulthood. 

A young fawn learns valuable survival skills by mimicking the behaviors of its mother.
This group of hyper-extended family is using an impromptu reunion as a means to stave off the potentially deadly cold.  
These elk and I agree that sometimes there is just nothing like spending a sunny day hangin' with your bros.
Here, our wonderful Stewardship Manager Laura is reminding us that family is as family does, and that if we can extend the TLC we share at home, to our cousins in the woods, we might grow our families beyond what we once thought possible. 

Friday, June 13, 2014

Friday Wildlife Video

Here's a fun video from one of Felix Ratcliff's riparian cameras on Tejon Ranch. In it, a bobcat and her kitten explore the bottom of remote El Paso Canyon. Stay tuned to learn more about Felix's project and what he is doing with the info contained in these videos. Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Teton Tuesday: the AV

Greetings from your neighborhood wildlife technician! This week I'm sharing some of the more unusual faces of the Antelope Valley. Of all the areas of the ranch, this windy corner may be my favorite to explore take pictures. Nowhere else are the extremes of an unforgiving landscape met with such vivid counterbalances of color, delicacy and secret life. It is this alluring dualism that has kept the people of this region mesmerized for millennia and keeps me coming back for more despite the sunburn and sand in my boots...

Sunrise on the contour road.
The gopher snake (Pituophis catenifer) is the longest snake in California. It was all I could do to keep from running this fella over as he decided to catch some rays stretching almost the entire width of White Oak road.
Beavertail cactus (Opuntia basilaris) blooming in the Cayon del Gato Montes.
Pronghorn Antelope (Antilocapra Americana) may be the fastest animal in the Western hemisphere, but can't jump worth a darn. In pastoral areas these animals rely on fencing high enough off of the ground for them to squeeze underneath. This buck(right) is looking for such a gap in order to rejoin his heard.

Moonrise over the Pacific Wind Project farm. For scale, each individual turbine blade is over 100ft long.


Friday, June 6, 2014

Wildflowers, Drought, and Other Important Matters

Striped adobe lily in March 2013
              When I think of the term “extreme drought year,” my mind’s eye tends to conjure an image of scorched landscapes, bare ground, and brown as far as you can see. So, when I look at the data from the US Drought Monitor and confirm the depth of this year’s drought, there’s a little bit of cognitive dissonance. You see, of the three springs I have spent on Tejon Ranch, this year’s crop of Antelope Valley wildflowers was by far the nicest I’ve seen. Admittedly, these have not been the greatest three springs for flowers, but it superficially stands to reason that the year with the poorest rain should have the poorest wildflowers.

Striped adobe lily in 2014
                Last year, despite mediocre rainfall, we wound up having a pretty nice spring in the San Joaquin Valley. We were the beneficiaries of several December storms on the San Joaquin side of the ranch. Throughout the San Joaquin fringe, Tejon Hills, and Old Headquarters we were pleased to see extensive color and blooms of some of our rare taxa, such as striped adobe lily (Fritillaria striata), Comanche Point layia (Layia leucopappa), and Tejon poppy (Escholzia lemmonnii ssp. Kernensis). 2014 in contrast has only yielded  brown fields with green highlights.

The "Tejon Milky Way" on April 1st, 2013

The "Milky Way" on April 9th, 2014
                So, what does the state of drought in California tell us about the extent of wildflower blooms in the region? The answer as far as I can tell, is nothing, which complicates my heretofore simplistic understanding of precipitation dynamics. Until now, my assumption had always been that if we receive a lot of rain in winter, there will be a lot of flowers in spring. If there is little rain in the wintertime, no flowers should germinate in the springtime.

Looking south towards Cordon Ridge on April 1st, 2013

Same view as above, but on April 9th, 2014

                BUT many of the plants we count on to produce spring wildflowers are annuals. Their life span can be as short as just a few months and flowering is only a fraction of their life history. We would be remiss to mention the vast diversity of these plants, too. Over 2400 species of wildflowers are native to California. Naturally, their blooms are highly variable. From what we can tell, some species will bloom heavily in certain specific conditions, while others require completely different sets of circumstances to be dominant.
After a non-blooming year in 2013, the Antelope Valley was painted with color in 2014
              With such a short time to live in a year, they are not as dependent on the full rain year (July-June). Instead, annual wildflowers- especially in drier environments, such as ours- have the flexibility to respond to smaller pulses of rain. This is exactly what it looks like have experienced this year. Some research shows that the wildflowers of the San Joaquin Valley rely heavily on December/January precip. With almost no precipitation until March, the window for germination of SJV flowers pretty much closed. However, the March and April rains were favorable to the Antelope Valley blooms.
Pescado Creek had fabulous displays from March-May 2014
                Another important aspect of the wildflower bloom has to do with soils. It always comes back to soils. For the most part, the most impressive wildflower spots on Tejon Ranch occur on deep sandy soils, which are excessively well-drained. This means that when rain falls on these areas, it doesn’t stay locked up near the surface as would be true with clay soils. Instead, it just drains down into the water table and away from the wildflower seeds. Water, therefore, is only available to the wildflowers for short periods of time. When the rain falls at the right time for flower germination as it did in the Antelope Valley this year, plants are able to germinate. When the timing is right like this, it doesn’t take much water to have impressive results.   

Poppies persisted through may in the Antelope Valley. Photo courtesy of Chuck Noble
                 In comparison, many of the perennial plants and trees seem to be more dependent on the rain year as a whole. The manzanita (Arctostaphylos sp.), for instance is typically one of the  toughest, most drought-resistant genera in the state hardly bloomed at all in our neck of the woods this year. The few flowers I did see appeared small, slightly shriveled, and had all been attacked by either a wasp or beetle, evidenced by a discreet hole in each individual flower. Likewise, many of the ponderosa pines (Pinus ponderosa) on the ranch appear to be dying from bark beetles- typically a sign of drought conditions.

Photo courtesy of Chuck Noble
                Whether we wind up experiencing El Nino for the 2014-2015 rain year or not, we are unlikely to escape the throes of this current drought. However, if the timing is right for our rains, we might end up with a great wildflower year. At least that’s some form of consolation!

Hopefully spring 2015 will give nice flowers to enjoy throughout Tejon Ranch. Photo courtesy of Chuck Noble

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Teton Tuesday: trap-camera video highlights

Below are a series of video clips all recorded in the last 30 days that capture a variety of Tejon wildlife as they engage their environment in the everyday struggle for survival out on the ranch. The woods may seem quiet, but it is truly incredible how alive they are with activity of all sorts, from the deepest canyon creek to the tallest windswept ridge. These videos were gathered using the same series of motion-sensor cameras featured in last week's post.

Mountain lion. Bronco Canyon:
It turns out even big cats don't like getting their paws wet.

Mule deer. Winter's Ridge:
Despite its inconspicuous design, camouflaged exterior and silent shutter, it is amazing how quickly many animals become aware of my cameras' presence. Their curiosity often allows for an exciting close-up!
Bobcat. Comanche Creek
Wild pig wallow. Bronco Canyon:
I can't think of a better way to cool off during the mid-day heat.
Rocky Mountain elk. Tejon Hills
Mountain lion.  Martinez Ridge