Sunday, May 31, 2009

A "People Ranching" Week on the Ranch

The highlight of the week was when 155 people gathered at the Center as witnesses to the marriage of Justin Duke and Stephanie Tidmore. The relatives and guests came from parts of Texas and as far away as Omaha, Nebraska. Rain clouds threatened all around, but the sun did shine on this young couple throughout the event. Justin, a graduate of Texas State University, has been with Selah 1 ½ years assisting with education programs and in habitat management. Stephanie is an LVN working at the Live Oak Medical Center in Blanco. She also volunteers here at the ranch on her days off.

Justin and Stephanie exchanging their vows.
Photograph taken by Shelley Duke, Justin’s sister.

Here’s Justin and Stephanie’s first dance.
Photograph taken by Shelley Duke.

Justin and Stephanie will live in this house under construction here on the ranch.
Photograph taken by J. David Bamberger.

Not politics – just a good citizen. I’ve always fostered the ethic of volunteerism and encouraged those who work here to give back to our community with their time and experience. Our Executive Director, Colleen Gardner, has been good about that with membership in the Johnson City Women’s Club- whose principle mission is funding the library, a Directorship on The Hill Country Alliance and by giving many programs on bees and land stewardship to schools and civic organizations. This week she was sworn in as Precinct 2 Director of the Blanco Pedernales Groundwater Conservation District.

Judge Carter swears in Colleen Gardner, Tom Morrow and Jimmy Klepac.
Photograph taken by Linda Vincent.

Interns are important to us for a number of reasons and it’s not just that they participate as willing workers. No, we feel it’s important that young people contemplating a career in conservation or environment or any form of agriculture for that matter spend some quality time in the natural world – such as a ranch, tropical rainforest or with a conservation organization. Here at Selah we enjoy and welcome the opportunity to take young people and awaken and nourish a passion for learning in them, especially regarding the natural world.

Here is Emma Hine, one of our summer interns, on her first day of “work” during our family picnic. Emma has just graduated from St. Andrew’s High School in Austin and will be attending Washington University in St. Louis. She plans to major in English.
Photograph taken by Kathy Wilson.

Samuel Marsh began his internship on May 29th. He is welcomed by Colleen Gardner, Executive Director, and J. David. Sam is attending Southwestern University in Georgetown, TX and will be with us until mid July.
Photograph taken by Lois Sturm.

Our Texas Parks and Wildlife Department organized a “media tour” here on the ranch on Tuesday, May 26th. What is a media tour? To us, it’s another form of “people ranching”; although it’s more “show and tell” than education. Representatives from all forms of media came to be enlightened by the many accomplishments and conservation practices we have instituted here over the past 40 years. It was a good day for us as representatives were here filming, interviewing and photographing the ranch from CBS KEYE-TV 42 in Austin, Express News from San Antonio, KSAT-TV 12 from San Antonio, The Austin American Statesman newspaper, National Public Radio, Texas Co-Op Power Magazine, Texas Wildlife Association, Sand County Foundation from Wisconsin and, of course, our many friends from our own Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. We did our best to show them all a good time and ended their day with a lunch at the Center. Look for their articles, pictures, and stories. Some links can be found on our website:

J. David welcomes everyone at the Historical Marker, our traditional meeting and greeting place for visitors to the ranch. The burial spot with the tombstone contains the following epitath: “In Memory of Man . . 2,000,000 BC – 20? AD . . . He who once dominated the earth destroyed it . . . with his wastes, his poisons, his own numbers.” Photograph taken by Colleen Gardner.

Steven Fulton, Ranch Biologist, demonstrates our Rain Machine for the media. The Rain Machine simulates a one inch rainfall on two different types of rangeland, one being a cedar infested forest and the other a grassland. It gives a dramatic visual illustration of what we did here at Selah and how it produced “Water from Stone.”
Photograph taken by Colleen Gardner.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Research That Follows Work

The beginning of our work to rescue the federally and state listed endangered plant, Styrax platinifolius ssp. Texanus, commonly known as the Texas snowbell, was in 1994. This beautiful plant is a small tree or shrub native to the watersheds of the Nueces and Devils River of west Texas.

I spent the first five years following leads from other botanists, looking in various herbariums and going door to door (ranch to ranch) in Real, Edwards, Uvalde, Kinney and Val Verde counties. Eventually, we secured landowners interest and support to save the plant from extinction. My message was that we private landowners could demonstrate our commitment and stewardship without the government’s regulation. A number of landowners agreed. Their combined ownership exceeded 100,000 acres. During this time, we collected small quantities of seed and began propagating and growing operations here on the ranch. In 2003 we began the recovery project by introducing the first of what would become 682 plants.

All introductions, under agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, are planted in the watershed from where the seed was collected. Plants are all corralled (caged) with five foot high 4 x 2 horse fencing supported by six steel t-posts. Each corral is six foot wide and contains three snowbell plants. We believe these will protect the plant from herbivory for 75 years and allow room for regeneration within the structure. Doing all the very hard labor of carrying materials, water and plants into steep canyons, over rocks and through thick brush would not have been possible without the help of many volunteers. Now the project has reached a point that scientists desire more knowledge and information about the plant. Steven Fulton, our ranch biologist, has chosen to answer scientists’ questions as part of his thesis for his graduate degree at Texas State University in San Marcos. The following describes the questions that Steven’s research is designed to answer:

Review of the Recovery Plan has illuminated many questions concerning the ecology of the Texas snowbell. Some believe that the Texas snowbell is confined to such inaccessible places as cliff faces to escape herbivory; however, there is only anecdotal evidence of animals consuming Texas snowbells. Evidence gathered through observation will prove or disprove that herbivory is a threat. Others believe that the Texas snowbell grows in such places because the presence of surface water creates a microhabitat with lower temperatures and higher relative humidity; however, no site specific climatic data is available. It is presumed that Texas snowbells reproduce via outbreeding and insect-pollination; however, these assumptions have not been verified and the pollinators have not been identified. As a result of their position above or near water, many of the mature seeds drop into water. The effect submersion has on seed viability is unknown.

To aid in the management of this species there is a need to identify its pollinators, to record its microclimate characteristics, and to determine if there is a correlation between seed submersion and viability. Information obtained from Steven’s research will improve the survival rate of reintroduced plants as well as provide information and understanding concerning the ecology of the Texas snowbell.

The snowbell blooms for approximately two weeks in mid April.

A distinguishing characteristic of the Texas snowbell is the white pubescence on the underside of the leaf. This is the only apparent difference from its close cousin, the sycamore leaf snowbell which we have growing naturally here on the ranch.

Looks can be deceiving! Between Steven and the mountain in the background flows the beautiful, crystal clear Devils River. This is in Val Verde County on the Nature Conservancy’s Dolan Falls Preserve. Here Steven is unpacking some of the scientific equipment he uses to collect data.

Here are the scientific instruments Steven has installed to collect data. The instrument in the foreground collects temperature and humidity and the one in the background records rainfall. These are delicate battery powered instruments.

Steven’s 6’8” height comes in handy when mounting a motion detecting camera which will produce a photograph of any animal that might come by and choose to browse the snowbells. Early results show Aoudad sheep browsing.

All of the research is not accomplished with scientific instruments! Here Steven has shrouded branches on the plant prior to its blossoming. Notice the flowers on the unshrouded branches. Steven will remove the shrouds and sit for hours observing what insect pollinates the snowbell plant. Up until now, this is totally unknown. Because this is scientific research, it is premature to make a statement about the pollinator until the work is complete.

Another shrouded plant overhanging the Devils River.

Here Steven retrieves information from the instruments into his laptop. This set up is on the Nueces River.

Steven must visit all of his installations once a month. Sometimes it takes two or three days to travel out to replace the batteries and extract the information. He spent ten days at the beginning of his research installing the equipment.

This was a gamble! On the cliff which was inaccessible to us from the top or from below, we had discovered some very healthy plants. In an effort to collect seed we drilled into the cliff and placed ten foot rebars to support some galvanized screen. To our delight we caught over 100 seeds in our net and from these seeds we have grown some healthy plants.

Steven has another year before he will be publishing his research and defending it at the university. We will bring the results to you at that time, but feel free to communicate with us if you have further interest.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Selah, Family Picnic

Six years ago Board Members Anne Donovan and Maydelle Fason proposed that we begin holding an annual family picnic for young families and grandparents. The idea was to allow all ages to experience the ranch as a family.

On May 3rd, we held our 5th Annual Selah Family Picnic with some 200 plus attending. Here are some scenes contributed by Amanda Fulton, Helen Ballew, Kathy Wilson and Colleen Gardner. With so many people being here, I am not able to name them; but you can tell from these photos that the picnic was enjoyed by young and old.

This beautiful young girl appears eager to get involved.

What and where to do it.

Sallie Delahoussaye rehabilitates raptors, and often releases them here at Selah. She teaches about their value to the natural world.

Who can resist a kid goat?

Overcoming the fear of snakes.

Native Plant Sale. Most of these plants were raised by our biologist, Steven Fulton.

The kids made kites and now it’s time to fly them.

These birdhouses are made by students from J. J. Pickle Elementary and Metz Elementary of Austin, Johnson City Elementary, and Bonham Elementary of San Antonio Schools during their stay here last year. Each house contained a surprise gift.

Silent Auction. After all, the Picnic is our only fundraiser.

Tours were taken to other places of interest – dinosaur tracks, the chiroptorium (our man made bat cave), to Madrone Lake, and to see the endangered herd of African antelope, the scimitar horned oryx.

Our Bluebonnet is used for these tours.

With so many activities at Madrone Lake, this sign helped everyone decide which way to go.

This picnic is really for the kids, but we do need the parents. Aren’t we all kids, anyway?

With our volunteers and parents, the kids made their kites. Time for a test flight.

Well, they didn’t make this kite – a parent brought it.

At Madrone Lake, our volunteers, Susan Sander, Mary Kay Sexton, and Meg Inglis taught kids how to use binoculars and how to identify birds. We all start somewhere. Left to right: Meg Inglis' son, Meg Inglis, Mary Kay Sexton (back), Susan Sander (binoculars).

Young Sam Fason, a very accomplished birder and volunteer, is a very good role model for the young.

Fishing is always enjoyed. You can see the effects of this very serious drought. Madrone Lake has received no water since July of 2008.

Here the kids turned rocks and stones into critters.

All day long little kids were all over the ranch with this art.

Here wildflower seeds are rolled up in mud mixed with a little peat moss. The kids take them home to dry and next fall throw them out in a park or ranch or even their own backyard.

The kids and some parents painted the clay pots. They go home with the family. Maybe this is the beginning of a botanist?

Here’s the Selah staff (left to right) Steven Fulton, Ranch Biologist; Colleen Gardner, Executive Director; Scott Grote, Ranch Operations Manager; J. David Bamberger, founder; and Lois Sturm, Administrative Assistant. We regret that Justin Duke, Ranch Steward, is not in this photograph.

Music and entertainment was provided by Lucas Miller, “The Singing Zoologist” – He is such a hit with kids. His singing includes a trunk full of props that hold kids’ attention. You might call Lucas an environmental singer songwriter. I’m really sorry that we don’t have a photo with the dozens of kids listening. His website is:

Bexar Grotto of San Antonio, long time friends of Selah, supplied an unbelievable lunch. Here you see the preparation and below the service.

Thank you Bob Cowell and crew!

As the picnicers came off of tours or completed some activity, they gathered on the patio. Excitement and enthusiasm was everywhere. Be sure you come next year.

Native Treasures, a rock shop in Austin, provided table decorations with their outstanding collection of minerals, fossils, geodes and rocks. Their website is:

There are two absolutely wonderful types that make this picnic possible - our volunteers and our sponsors. As you look at the pictures, you’ll notice a lot of green t-shirts. All of these are volunteers. Once again, I’m sorry we don’t have pictures of all of them. I have said publicly that conservation and nature awareness will never be accomplished by the government with laws and regulation. No, it will be accomplished by those in our society that bring their knowledge, energy and time to projects like ours as volunteers.

Our sponsors play another role. They bring funding that supports not only this picnic, but all of our other programs. In economic times like today’s, it takes a strong commitment to continue supporting causes such as ours. I know very well how scarce funds are today, so their continued interest is a blessing.