Conservation Science Director, Tejon Ranch Conservancy
Tejon Ranch, CA
Though he is busy devising an ecological management plan for the entirety of the Tejon Ranch, Mike White spends the morning with us, laughing at our outrage when he tells us we only missed pop-star Rhianna by a week. “They do a lot of filming out here. Mostly commercials. A lot of car commercials. Just last week, Rhianna was out here filming her music video.” You can see the appeal of this place. The ranch is a beautiful and surprising blend of four very different Californias – the Mojave, the Sierra-Nevada, the Coastal Range, and Oak Chaparral. But more importantly, the ranch holds a unique blend of the flora and fauna of each—not to mention human development, recreation, and cattle grazing. Just outside the glow of L.A., the Tejon Ranch Company has development rights on just 10% of the ranch, the biggest contiguous privately owned piece of land in the state. Mike’s job is to handle the other 90%. After one day with the Westies, it has one less fence.
By Katie Hardy
Wildlife Coordinator, Tejon Ranch Company
Tejon Ranch, CA
By way of an introduction, Tony Mattias shouts “Everyone put one hand up in the air! Now just one finger!” We stand in a slightly stunned crescent around this man whose mustache alone would warrant authority, waiting for the next enthusiastic instruction, or an explanation of why our pointer fingers stick skywards like a garden of toothpicks. We get the explanation. “You are here on one of five days a year that the wind isn’t blowing 95 miles per hour,” he grins. We are most certainly lucky, because our task at the Tejon Ranch today involves relieving the meadow and surrounding hillsides of a three-strand barbed wire fence presenting mobility issues to the local wildlife. A stern-looking kidder, Tony shows us how to cut and wrap the barbed wire into wheels before we go on to wrench, wriggle, and beg the fence posts from the loose soil.
By Katie Hardy
Public Access Coordinator, Tejon Ranch Conservancy
Tejon Ranch, CA
When Scot Pipkin came to meet the SITW caravan at the gates of Tejon Ranch, my first impression was that he dressed very professionally. He wore a button down shirt, olive green outdoors pants, and new hiking boots. But as he sat in the chair circle with us, explaining the unique land conservation pioneered on the ranch, his pink, purple, and baby blue sports watch caught my eye. It seemed that there was a quirkier side to Scot Pipkin that we were not yet privy to. My theory was confirmed when he busted out some sweet dance moves while waiting in the dinner line later that evening.
Scot has only been working at the Tejon Ranch Conservancy for a couple of months, but he’s very committed to the model of private land conservation that’s been created between the Tejon Ranch Company and the non-profit Tejon Ranch Conservancy. The ranch company has the right to develop 10% of the ranch, and the conservancy manages the other 90% of the land with a board of representatives from both the environmental community and the ranch. This land will be put under easement in sections over a set time period, paid for by California state funds. This is where Scot comes in. He works as the Public Access Coordinator for the conservancy, leading guided community hikes and school groups around the ranch. Because the public is paying for the easements, the conservancy and the ranch company have agreed that there should be limited public access on what is technically still private land. Scot was a great guide in that beautiful place. He took us on a walk our first afternoon at the ranch, stayed for dinner, and then helped with a service project to take down an old barbed wire fence the next day.
By Kari Paustian
Wildlife consultant, Terra-Gen Wind
Kevin Martin, the man in charge of making sure the Tehachapi Pass wind project has the smallest impact possible on wildlife, believes “the people who do the best job have the most comprehensive view.” Kevin is the self-described manager of “bugs and bunnies” at Terra-Gen, by which he means he coordinates protection efforts for endangered and threatened species like the California Condor, Golden Eagle, Desert Tortoise and Bakersfield Cactus at the largest wind farm in the world. The generating capacity at the Tehachpi Pass wind farm is a whopping 1500 MW. The critically endangered California Condor’s southern flock makes its home right next door in the Tehachapi mountains so finding ways avoid collisions is critically important. Kevin keeps the emerging clean energy industry honest to its environmentally sensitive roots.
By Collin Smith
Realty Specialist, Ridgecrest Field Office, Bureau of Land Management
Terra-Gen Wind Farm, Tehachapi, California
Today Paul Rodriguez met with the westies to discuss the inside workings of the BLM. “That is my supervisor,” Paul said of his son happily drawing on scrap paper in the back of the room. Paul brought wit to the topic of going through the arduous process of navigating public lands’ restrictions. Currently he is working on proposed solar and wind projects. Before these projects go up they must satisfy both state and federal regulations. This means hundreds of pages of paperwork, including NEPA, EIS, etc. and lots of negotiations. Paul’s office due to limited budget is understaffed, so he has to work hard to keep up with the pressure of getting these things done to meet deadlines for alternative energy subsidies. But he doesn’t seem to mind: “I like the adventure; I like the craziness.” Paul said he switched from working in lands and minerals to alternative energy because it is an energy source he believes in. Alternative energy in this region is a contentious issue. Ridgecrest Field Office land houses both condors and desert tortoises; both of which are federally listed endangered species. In order to build energy projects on this land, developers must find a way to have no impact on these species. Wildlife activists are concerned that turbines pose a physical threat to the condors and that massive solar arrays ruin tortoise habitat. Paul said that a lot of alternative energy projects would never be built because of restrictions having to do with the endangered species act.
By Marijke E. Wijnen