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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Confessions of a Conservancy Docent, by Dr. Richard Chapleau

Hello, my name is Richard Chapleau and I’m a first-year volunteer with the Tejon Ranch Conservancy.  It has been an incredible year, and I’ve been honored to be a part of a group of remarkable people.

So what is it like to be a new naturalist/docent/volunteer with the Tejon Ranch Conservancy?  I’m learning to ask new questions.  I’m gaining new eyes for nature after a lifetime of teaching high school Chemistry, Biology, and Physics.  My wife and I are finishing our first year helping out the team of professional wildlife scientists who work here at the Conservancy. 

 Lisa and Richard Chapleau at the Michener weather station on Tejon Ranch.
Each docent (or in our case, a pair of docents) helps out as they can, and the Conservancy staff members work hard to find projects that align with a volunteer’s interests.  We are both retired science/math teachers, and are comfortable working with computers and analyzing data sets.  So it was a natural fit for us to take over the weather station program at the Tejon Ranch.

Other docents perform a wide variety of tasks.  For example, some volunteers help count the pronghorn (I’ve learned there are no antelope in North America), monitor burrowing owl colonies, clear out old fencing, battle invasive weeds, and lead wildflower viewing hikes. 

At 270,000 acres, the Tejon Ranch is a big, big place.  Every three weeks or so, Lisa and I are privileged to drive out to remote spots and download the data from eight weather stations.  From a low of 562 feet above sea level on the San Joaquin Valley floor to over 6100 feet at Martinez Ridge, we see a variety of environments.  We’ve recently added one more shiny brand new station at the Conservancy office in Lebec. This one hosts a live feed of weather that can be checked online: (
Lisa Chapleau hard at work in the Antelope Valley.
 School teachers are no strangers to working with little money and lots of hand-me-downs.  We wrote multiple grant applications for our schools and classrooms through the years, and it’s much the same here for the folks at the Conservancy.  Although we have eight stations out there, five of them are older models that need a loving touch.  Now and then they might decide to take a few hours off, and we sometimes see “holes” in our spreadsheets when we return to do the analysis.  But we’re upgrading weather stations as funding permits.

That’s a little of what we do here, but to be honest, what I enjoy the most is the different people I meet here and listening to the stories of their conservation work.  How can you not fall in love with a pristine place, full of brilliant poppies, soaring condors, bubbling springs, and breathtaking views?
A stormy view down Tunis Canyon, San Joaquin Valley.

One of Lisa's beautiful Tejon-themed quilts, hanging in our office.
Dr. Richard Chapleau is a retired science teacher who lives in the Antelope Valley, neighboring Tejon Ranch. He and his wife Lisa Chapleau, a retired math teacher and quilting extraordinare, have been invaluable contributors to Conservancy programs for more than a year. Their combined efforts have involved overseeing weather station maintenance and complicated data sets, managing data for our volunteer program, assisting with tours and service projects, and sharing their skillful proclivities in creating live music, artful quilting, and homegrown delicious eggs with our office on a regular basis. We couldn't ask for more generous, talented, and kind-hearted neighbors! Truly extraordinary!