<----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.
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.