Sunday, September 6, 2009

My Vision for Selah, Bamberger Ranch Preserve

To all of you who have followed my blog and new viewers alike,

The shingles have brought me excruciating pain. The drugs to control the pain have not only kept me from work or enjoyment of the ranch and friends, but have kept me stoned all day! Six weeks of this is enough. After six weeks, it seems to be easing up.

The content of this week’s blog was written to our Board of Directors in 2003. I never intended it to be in circulation around the world. Since it is so long we’re going to leave it posted for two weeks. By then, the shingles should be letting up and I should be able to bring you more about the ranch. I have added the pictures from our files. They were not part of the original vision statement to the Board.


J. David Bamberger, 12/16/2003

Photograph taken by J. David.


My purpose in creating an entity that could hold SELAH together and continue it’s mission in perpetuity was to support a strong belief of mine that Mother Nature needed help ~ some relief and protection from humans and the thoughtless destruction caused by an exploding population that had more money than any past generations and a desire to have a piece of land in the Hill Country. I felt it important that larger tracts such as the 5500 acres of SELAH, which was purchased in 1969, be set aside, forever protected from development or fragmentation. Thus BRP was born in 2002.

West side view of Selah. Photo by Margaret Bamberger.
Madrone Lake invites Cory dog. Photo by Margaret Bamberger.

Believing that governments, at all levels, would not devote enough of their budgets to set aside and manage such lands, and also thinking that conservation organizations and land trusts still could not do their tasks due to money and time, it became apparent to me that without the commitment of private landowners to take action, Mother Nature, as we have always known her, was threatened. A favorite statement of mine by William Beebe, a scientist and explorer, (which I have paraphrased), was “A work of art or the scroll of a symphony can be lost, but it can be resurrected. But when a species is lost, another heaven and another earth must form before it could live again.” Incidentally, he said that 65 years ago!

Scimitar horned Oryx – Endangered species. Photo by Chris W. Johnson.
Texas Snowbell – Endangered Species. Photo by Margaret Bamberger.

As my vision developed, I realized that the economics of most private landowners would mean financial sacrifice that they would be unwilling to handle, even though they loved and respected their land. It therefore should rightly fall on the shoulders of society in general and to those who had the love, foresight, and resources to do it.

The Center – sleeps 48; conference 100. Photo by Chase Fountain.
The Center's Patio – seats 200. Photo by J. David.

Some people get religion, others develop interests in art, education or hunger, and other humanitarian issues, and they dedicate their accumulated wealth to these causes. I have found myself involved in conservation, the environment and education of others about these issues. As my experience and knowledge developed, and debate and controversy over environmental issues continued, I began to see how SELAH could serve as a model of conservation for landowners as well as provide a neutral site for both sides of the environmental debates. In the early 1980’s “The Center” was built to help facilitate this mission.

Summer science camp for kids. Photo by Dixie Gadna.
Landowner Tour Group. Photo by Colleen Gardner.


In 1994 Margaret came into my life. She is truly the best overall naturalist I had ever known. She also is a wonderful teacher, and a very good program designer. Up to that point SELAH was a conference center and a place for me to more or less “show and tell.”

Selah staff and family. Photo by Chase Fountain.
Annual Family Picnic. Photo by Amanda Fulton.

Margaret added a whole new dimension to that which I had practiced. She initiated tours, workshops for landowners and teachers, and school programs designed to meet the needs of teachers, including programs that weren’t available anywhere else. What had been accomplished at SELAH drew the attention of the media. Articles appeared in state and national magazines and on television. More and more we were called upon to speak and to bring our experiences to interested groups. I developed a political agenda designed to promote parks and the environment. We initiated, by demand, a consultation service. None of these things required advertising as they all came about through publicity and referral.

From the reaction of the many visitors who have had the opportunity to visit SELAH, I have received encouragement and applause. Through my business experience and volunteer assignments with government agencies, and many conservation organizations, I have gotten the insights about parks, sanctuaries and “set aside” lands from which the vision I have for SELAH developed.

Deep Canyon Trail. Photo by Chase Fountain.
Aldo Leopold Trail Bridge. Photo by Chase Fountain.

I wanted the ranch left mostly as it is today, to be a place that, first of all, preserves and protects plants and animals and all living things, a place for educating others now and for the benefit of future generations. I wanted to create the entity now and give it financing and direction so that we could enjoy watching its progress while we are present to do so.


Northeast view of Selah. Photo by Chase Fountain.
Jacob’s Ladder with 20 year old Cypress trees. Photo by Chase Fountain.

What will parks and sanctuaries look like in the future? Will they glorify nature? Will they provide refuge for wild things both animal and plant? Will the visitor be in the natural world, or one contrived or exploited with gift shops, restaurants, vending machines, vapor lights, cell phone towers, paved parking lots, signs, overused picnic areas and garbage dumpsters? Will they be developed with buildings and machines, offices, computers and large staffs? My vision, desire and belief are the opposite. I truly believe that within 20 years there will be few if any publicly accessible parks or natural areas in America that will not have most all of these things. There will be no places left that exclude all these signs of civilization except SELAH, and with this “civilizing” of the natural world Mother Nature suffers.

It is so easy to initiate programs or actions, but it is more difficult to sustain them. One reason of course is the money it requires. I recall Jane Goodall’s visit here when she said during her talk to the group assembled to hear her, “Whenever you are thinking of acquiring something new, ask yourself this question, ‘Can I get along without this?’” She was referring to purchases of material things that consume natural resources. I’m thinking of the fact that in the quest to acquire more – more buildings, more equipment, and more staff – one looses the focus of one’s mission. More businesses have gone bankrupt because they expanded too fast, and didn’t take good stock of just what resources they had that made them successful in the first place.

My thinking is not to negate progress or to stop necessary construction or needed capital expenditures. I know that times and circumstances change and those who don’t adapt to change go extinct. So there is room for this adapting, but only after considering the cost and consequences, and after thoughtful debate should the Preserve venture out. What development SELAH feels today was carefully considered and planned. Roads, attractions, trees, and buildings all have space and separation. I have planned everything to fit in with the land, to make sure nothing gives the impression of affluence or ostentatiousness. This is all so very important as I wanted this image to support the ranch programs and viewpoint and not have a negative impact on nature.

Bat emergence from Chiroptorium, Selah’s man made cave. Photo by Lois Sturm.
Chiroptorium has become a maternity cave. Lighter colors are baby bats. They bunch up to 500 per square foot. Photo by Tom Kunz.

I see the future of SELAH as being just what it is today – a place that glorifies Mother Nature and shares it simply and cleanly with all others that visit. I see this as minimally developed land continuing to serve as an inspiration and model for others, and as a place where those who work there, the volunteers and directors all personify the name, “SELAH”. The staff and its volunteers should continue the outreach programs and nurture our reputation so that our example will inspire and motivate others to open the natural world to young people, to motivate other landowners to do the same as we have today, and to inspire philanthropy to support their efforts.

In all the years of operating the ranch it has never shown a profit, in fact, far from it. Some years the losses were over $200,000. None of the losses were caused from frivolous or unnecessary spending but rather from ranch operations, depreciations and conservation practices. Try as I could, I was never able to cut the annual losses below $70,000.

There are ways to reverse or stop this financial drain, but all methods I’m aware of either have a negative impact on the land and Mother Nature, require more buildings and staff (and therefore expenses), or they begin taking away the very thing that sets SELAH apart and maintains the uncivilized naturalness. Raising prices to come here has some potential, if discriminatory, but no organized group, particularly the young, should be left behind because of lack of a few dollars. I don’t believe we can pass on our overhead or mistakes to those who need the SELAH experience.

By changing my attitude about money and inheritance, I have made provisions for a respectable endowment. However my own projections still show a need for contributions and grants to support on-going operations. This will require assistance from staff and directors.

In inviting like-minded individuals to work at and direct the BRP, I ask that you follow these wishes and intents, that you perpetuate yourselves with those of similar beliefs, and that you ask anyone to leave your ranks, no matter who they may be, nor how well they perform otherwise, should they not support the above written philosophy.

J. David and my dog, Cory. Photo by Chase Fountain.

Please help us preserve this large open space and to continue the programs for children and landowners that inspire and instill a respect for the natural world and all living things, like us, who need it. We are a 501c3 private operating foundation so contributions to Bamberger Ranch Preserve are tax deductible as permitted by law.


Colleen S. Gardner said...

I thought the country store story was my favorite, but now, hands' down, this one is it. The photos compliment your philosophy beautifully.

Sallie said...

Very nice story. I hope this will bring many donations and endowments. Get well soon.