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Friday, August 15, 2014

Volunteer Appreciation

 Conservancy staff and celebrated volunteers L to R: Laura Pavliscak, Conservancy Stewardship Manager; Michael Allen, weather station volunteer, interpretive docent, and iNaturalist champion; Chris Gardner, interpretive docent, wildlife camera monitor, and birding survey volunteer; Scot Pipkin, Conservancy Public Access Coordinator; Chuck Noble, do-it-all volunteer, Bill Lydecker, pronghorn survey volunteer; Phoebe Prather, Conservancy Staff Biologist; Mike White, Conservation Science Director. Photo courtesy of Chuck Noble

On August 10th, Tejon Ranch Conservancy proudly held its first-ever Volunteer Appreciation BBQ. Over 40 people including volunteers, friends, and family gathered at the park in the Old Headquarters of Tejon Ranch to celebrate the fantastic interpretation, stewardship, and citizen science work being done on the property. 

Scot presented awards to the most active volunteers. Photo courtesy of Mike Prather

Since the Conservancy was initially formed, we have been utilizing volunteers to assist with spring trip leading, data collection during efforts such as our annual Christmas Bird Count, Breeding Bird Blitz, and purple martin survey, and stewardship projects.  However, the scope of our volunteer efforts has broadened significantly in the last year in large part due to our adoption of the California Naturalist curriculum. This University of California-developed class is the natural history equivalent of a master gardener program. One of its primary objectives is to train members of the community to be knowledgeable interpreters, citizen scientists, and stewards of the land. 

Intrepid surveys searching for purple martins. Photo courtesy of Nicole Stephens
With a staff of seven employees and over 400 square miles of land to protect, enhance, and restore, the Conservancy is going to need a lot of help. Fortunately, we have established significant partnerships with a variety of research and conservation organizations ranging from the UC Berkeley Range Ecology Lab to dendroclimatologists (those who study tree rings to learn about past climate) from the University of Minnesota. These relationships are undoubtedly giving us deeper understanding of this extraordinary region and its management. However as is often the case with science, the research being performed on Tejon Ranch is leading to more engaging and complex questions than tidy conclusions. 

Vertical pipe capping volunteers
This is where volunteers come in. With a cadre of skilled nature observers, the Conservancy will increase its capacity to search for the answers necessary to perform the best conservation management possible on Tejon Ranch and beyond. Already, we have had volunteers take over pronghorn surveys, monitor our weather stations, help to sort through wildlife camera data, and maintain Conservancy vehicles. Since October 2013, we have received almost 2,000 donated hours from our volunteers- that’s the equivalent of an extra full-time employee on staff.  And we’re just getting started…

The benefits of volunteers on Tejon Ranch extend far beyond meeting the Conservancy’s organizational goals. We see our volunteer program as a way to raise awareness about the natural history and scientific study of Tejon Ranch and the Tehachapi Mountains. These ambassadors will disseminate their knowledge throughout the community and directly to visitors as interpreters on our public access events.

So where do we go from here? The Conservancy has begun training another group of naturalists and is working hard on developing a new series of stewardship and science projects that the public can help us with. Stay tuned to this blog and our website as we announce more opportunities to volunteer and help the Conservancy manage this spectacular place. Hopefully next year, you too will be able to attend our Volunteer Appreciation BBQ! 

3 generations: Nancy, Kestrel, and Phoebe Prather enjoying some family time during our 2014 BBQ. Both of Phoebe's parents have gotten involved with volunteering for Tejon Ranch Conservancy over the years. Kestrel is a volunteer in training. . . Photo courtesy of Chuck Noble