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Friday, May 15, 2015

Saying Goodbye To One Of Our Family, By Dr. Mike White, Conservation Science Director

Tejon Ranch Conservancy Executive Director, Tom Maloney showing his classic serious side

It is with very mixed emotions that we say goodbye to Tejon Ranch Conservancy Executive Director, Tom Maloney.  Tom and his wife Andrea are starting a new chapter of their lives in the San Francisco Bay area, with Tom taking a position with National Audubon, and we sincerely wish them the best.  But to me Tom’s departure feels like losing one of the family. 

Tom signing the Conservancy's first conservation easements (and clearly enjoying himself).

Tom was hired in 2009 as the first Executive Director of the Tejon Ranch Conservancy and oversaw the development of the organization from the ground-up.  This meant everything from working with our Board of Directors, hiring Conservancy staff, deciding on the Conservancy logo, buying office furniture, etc.  But ultimately his challenge was to build an organization to conduct science-based stewardship and public access on 240,000 acres of conserved lands at Tejon Ranch, while the landowner, the Tejon Ranch Company, had the right to use those lands for hunting and ranching.  So this also meant he had to help forge a new relationship between the Conservancy and the Tejon Ranch Company, and I think the Conservancy’s successes under Tom’s leadership attest to his success in both these regards.

While all of our staff members have contributed to our success, all of the Conservancy’s “firsts” came under Tom’s leadership, including:
·         The Conservancy’s successful application to the IRS for nonprofit status;
·         Acquiring over $15 million in funding from the Wildlife Conservation Board to purchase the Conservancy’s first 62,000 acres of conservation easements at Tejon Ranch;
·         Acquiring almost another 50,000 acres of donated conservation easements;
·         Receiving a donation of the Conservancy’s first piece of property in fee-title (we own the dirt!);
·         Receiving Land Trust Alliance (LTA) accreditation for adhering to high corporate governance standards;
·         The Conservancy’s first Ranch-wide Management Plan and Public Access Plan;
·         Development of a robust public access program;
·         Development of a volunteer docent program;
·          The Conservancy’s first on-the-ground stewardship activities;
·         The first graduate student research projects conducted on Tejon Ranch;
·         Initiation of inaugural citizen science events like the BioBlitz, Christmas Bird Count, Breeding Bird Blitz, and Purple Martin Surveys; and
·         New discoveries, such as several endangered plant species found for the first time on the Ranch.

Tom at the Conservancy's first Christmas Bird Count
Did I mention Tom likes to watch birds?
But on a more personal note- Tom is an interesting guy and set a unique style in the office. He is quite a comic (he's got a million of 'em) and I think I can safely speak for the staff when I say we know most of his jokes and stories by now! Tom has an eclectic taste in music, with interests way too long to list here, and he enjoys movies. I can also tell you he is quite particular about his coffee (maybe that's why he moved to the Bay Area!) and sometimes a little ice cream in the afternoon. But seriously, he has been a great Director. He has given me latitude to do my job as I think best and the support to do it the best I can. In my experience that is a rare leadership skill, and I and other Conservancy staff feel fortunate to have such a great Director to work with.

Did I mention Tom is a birdwatcher?  I guess that’s actually an understatement.  Tom is a serious birder.  No, Tom is darn near a bird “whisperer!” Tom not only identifies birds when he sees them, he knows their calls and songs, behaviors, timing of migration, when they winter and where they breed – you get the picture.  He’s the only person I have ever heard use the expression “birder’s Tourettes Syndrome” (the propensity to shout out the names of birds passing by in the middle of a conversation in the field) to characterize his behavior. For Tom, birding is not a hobby, it’s a way of life.

The Conservancy is off to a strong start not only because of his leadership but because of his skills as a fundraiser, which for a nonprofit is just as important.  Tom helped raise well over $2 million in donations, grants, and contracts from individuals and private and public organizations.  The Conservancy is fiscally sound, and due to Tom’s organizational skills, will continue to run smoothly in his absence.
Tom in Sacatara Canyon. He also obtained private funding to install fences that restrict cattle access to these riparian habitats

Most of you don’t know that Tom and I lived together in the Conservancy’s rental house in Lebec after he was hired, so Tom and I got to know each other pretty well.  We got to spend a lot of time together, ended up having a lot in common (listened to a lot of Grateful Dead), and became friends.  So for me Tom’s leaving is more than just changing Directors.  I have learned so much from him and can thank him for helping create my dream job. At the end of the day, Tom has helped build and lead an organization that does great conservation work, in a fantastic landscape, in cooperation with a willing partner, and that’s a legacy any of us would aspire to leave.
Because of Tom’s leadership, the team he built will all carry on implementing the mission of the Conservancy.  We look forward to working with our new Executive Director, and all of you, to protect, enhance and restore the native biodiversity and ecosystem values of Tejon Ranch and the Tehachapi Range for the benefit of future generations.

Ground control to Major Tom (sorry, I had to say it)