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Friday, October 17, 2014

On Behalf of the Rest of Life- by Dr. Mike White, Conservation Science Director

Intrepid citizen scientists braved the cold and wind during the 2011 Christmas Bird Count. Photo courtesy of Willie Burnside.

Chris G. and John B. setting up a wildlife camera.
I was reading an interesting Smithsonian Magazine article the other day about E.O. Wilson’s “Half Earth” idea (i.e., take half of the Earth for people and leave half for nature, The Wildest Idea on Earth by Tony Hiss. Smithsonian Magazine, September 2014).  But that’s not what I wanted to talk about.  When discussing the 109.5 million acres of wilderness protected in the U.S. since the Wilderness Act was signed by President Johnson in 1964, Hiss credited and gave “thanks to the citizen groups working on behalf of the rest of life.”  It is these citizens working on behalf of the rest of life that I want to talk about.  

 During the course of my career, I have had the opportunity to interact with lots of these citizens.  They can be well-organized, logical, and effective ambassadors for conservation (or sometimes not so much) but one thing they all share in abundance is their passion for the natural world.  At the Conservancy I have had the opportunity to spend time on the Ranch with many of these citizens, and I am continually struck by their passion and excitement for nature. There are people that love to key plants, spend their free time photographing snakes, or like to understand what types of rocks are under their feet.  I have spent time with folks that will crawl around on their bellies looking at tiny wildflowers that most people wouldn’t even notice (and spend more hours trying to put names to them!), that will drive hours through freeway traffic just to see a condor flying overhead or to pull some weeds, or whose idea of a good time is simply to walk in wild places.

Larry A. recording data for the 2012 CBC. Photo courtesy of Jen Browne

We are fortunate to have some of these citizens volunteering their time for the Conservancy to help with activities that most people would consider to be not so much fun at best and really geeky or boring at worst.  Our volunteers help count birds, identify and catalog plant species, download weather station data, count acorns on oaks, keep track of our pronghorn herd, watch hours of wildlife video to document animal activity, assist with tours, and even help maintain our vehicles!  The collective contributions of these citizens to conservation across the U.S. is really hard to measure, but we at the Conservancy know very well that we would have less information on the resources of Tejon Ranch, less manpower to carry out our mission, and much less fun without their involvement.
There are many people who really don’t understand what nature and wild places mean to me, and it is rewarding to be in the company of these like-minded citizens who appreciate and are turned-on by the same things as I am.  I am also gratified that we have friends who can work with us on behalf of the rest of life, and am comforted that we are creating a community of citizens to carry on the work that we have begun at Tejon Ranch after we are gone

For some, the fun doesn't begin until you get back to camp. These botanists are "keying" plants they encountered on their Tejon Ranch trip. Citizen scientists have helped the Conservancy immensely with finding plants and updating our plant list. Photo courtesy of Ann Dalkey. Accessed from the Jepson Herbarium Tumblr: