Thursday, May 5, 2011

Bamburger's Selah Ranch

<----Memorial stone near entrance to Selah Ranch:  
In Memory of Man 2,000,000 B.C. - A.D. 20_?_.  

Forty-two years ago, J. David Bamburger bought 3,000 acres of  Blanco County land,
barren, grazed-out, good-for-nothing land without live water.  It was   "the most degraded land in the Hill Country".

Today springs flow, cattle and goats graze in wild grassland pastures, and the ranch is home to endangered animals, birds and plants.

Selah is a 501c3 corporation dedicated to teaching the principles of sound land management and preservation of species.  The ranch is open to the public in a limited way through reserved group tours.  Denny and I lucked into a tour last month, best $15 I've spent in a long time.

It's easy to see degraded land in the Hill Country. Our soil is thin, ranchers haven't always known the danger of overgrazing, wildfires are suppressed, and recovery takes hard work.

Seeing land restored is a walk back in time and an exercise in hope. 

Bamburger practiced a few simple principles--revolutionary at the time, accepted practice now.
Note the two juniper-covered hills (left and center) in the photo above. Then note the hill to the right with grasslands interspersed.

First Bamburger cleared most of the Ashe juniper (known here as 'cedar' or more commonly, 'damn cedar').  Ashe juniper is native to Hill Country canyons, historically kept in place by wildfires that swept the rolling grasslands.  

But with settlement and suppression of fire, cedars blanketed the Hill Country, smothering grasslands.  Less water nourished the soil and percolated to the underground aquifer. Springs dried up.

Demonstration of the difference in groundwater and runoff between grasslands and cedars--->

As a side-note, Bamburger left some old stands of Ashe Junipers, in homage to the endangered Golden-cheeked warbler, which uses pliable strands of bark in nesting. We got a good view of a male Golden-cheeked singing for a mate as we stood in one of the stands.

With much of the cedar gone, prairie grasses and wildflowers re-emerged.  And two years later, springs bubbled.

The tour includes a canyon where Bamburger planted a variety of native trees, including  endangered Texas Snowbells (Styrax platanifolius ssp. texanus) propagated for replanting in their native regions.  And the almost-as-rare Sycamore Leaf Snowbell, (Styrax platanifolius Engelm. ex Torr.) native to Blanco County. I have the names of two nurseries carrying this one...and foresee snowbells in our future.

The woodland walk was also thick with Escarpment Black Cherry (Prunus serotina var. eximia).  My little trees would have felt right at home.

There are ponds created by small dams of spring-fed creeks. Classes of fourth-graders from inner-city Texas schools come stay at the ranch in summer and swim in the ponds.  Some of those children have never seen water that wasn't enclosed in cement.
Selah is a working ranch, with cattle and goats that mow the grass, provide natural fertilizer and bring in money to pay the bills.  

The herds of Scimitar-horned Oryx are there for survival.  This species has not been seen in the wild for over 20 years, and it is believed that none have survived in their African home range. Bamburger Ranch hosts 29 pure bloodlines and may be the last hope of the animal's future.

David Bamburger is 82, still working, planning and planting.  A man with a vision, who has made the world better.  Selah Ranch is proof of what just one man can do.

For more about Selah Ranch, find Jeffrey Greene's book, Water from Stone: The Story of Selah, Bamberger Ranch Preserve. 

Copyright 2009-2011 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.


  1. Incredible -- it's so good to hear stories of people like Bamburger. Thank you for sharing this with us!

  2. I like the balanced approach to thinning out the junipers, and that seems to be more reasonable to let them take over or eradicate them. *EX*-clients, originally from Texas and Colorado, both got angry with me about wanting to keep all their junipers...the couple pinons they kept all died. Since Juniper were all removed, no trees! They have a place, in well-managed land.

    I keep hearing about this Selah Ranch - next trip down, I must check it out, somehow.

  3. Oh, this is just gorgeous! I'm amazed that the springs were restored in just two years! At the farm next to my dad's near Sisterdale, there was a spring that dried up when I was a little girl. It was the saddest thing. Thanks for a lovely post.

  4. I read posts like these an am thankful for the Missouri Dept. of Conservation, which has been active in preserving our state's natural heritage since the late thirties. It's amazing how fast land regenerates under sound management practices, and people need to learn, as our farmers know here, that productive agriculture and wild species protection can coexist and indeed thrive. (My Prairie Chicken post notwithstanding.)

    Great post.


  5. Selah is an inspirational story and a beautiful place to visit. I posted about it myself recently:

  6. Awesome. . . simply amazing what one person can start.

  7. My husband went there with our son's class trip. I lobbied hard for my girls to take the same class so I could chaperone on their trip (knowing that not just anyone can go). Just my luck, no field trip to Bamburger this year. So it is with glad appreciation that I am seeing the ranch through your photos.

    I wish a handful of my tree loving neighbors would learn the message of Bamburger. Cutting down cedars can cultivate a healthier landscape and grow shade trees.

  8. This is a variation of the Tsavo argument. Which more or less states that if man farms after the fashion of the landscape things will self regulate. It's the man 'in' 'of' but not imposing 'on' the land. What I cannot think is what were the native large grazers of that land originally. Bison were much further north.

  9. I would love to meet this man. This is such a wonderful story of preservation and persevering.

  10. Just found your site while looking for an image of the Texas Gray Fox hope you don't mind my linking to it. Your blog is GREAT! I'm sure I will be a continual fan!

  11. You and Denny sure do find some interesting things to do. Thank you for sharing your trip with us.

    I love you much,


  12. This post brought back some great memories. Buck and I had an opportunity to spend a night at Bamberger Ranch in November of 2000 with a small gathering of remarkable people. Walking the trails by the river was really something. Thanks for pushing that memory button, Kathleen.

  13. Kathleen,

    Greetings from a native Austinite (I grew up in the cedarbrakes of Oak Hill in the '60s) transplanted, now, to Wichita. I found your blog via Randall's place.

    This post reminded me of John Graves' essay collection, From a Limestone Ledge, in which he writes about his efforts to restore some north-central Texas ranchland in much the same way that Bamberger is doing (minus the oryx). He's about the same age as Bamberger, too: old enough to have talked to people who remember what it had looked like.

    Anyway, just thought I'd say hello and thank you for offering up some fine writing about my home.


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