Sunday, October 25, 2009

People Ranching – Education

In 2003 Margaret and I learned that the failure rate in Science on the mandated tests by students in Title One Schools was nearly 100%. A Title One School is one where families are so poor that the students received free breakfast and free lunch. . . . There has been a lot written and researched on the problem. One well written book is Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv. He calls the problem Nature Deficit Disorder. We thought that we could help overcome this “Disorder” by inviting all fifth grade students, in selected schools in Austin and San Antonio, to come to the ranch for three days and two nights. Our goal was to awaken and nourish in these children a passion for learning about the natural world.

We all worked together to develop a curriculum that took place mostly out on the ranch, a 5500 acre classroom! The program was offered free to the schools. Their commitment was to measure results and to transport the students to us. It’s been a phenomenal success! Here are some of the activities taking place and the people bringing the programs to 5th grade kids from J. J. Pickle Elementary School in Austin.

Sallie Delahoussaye who has devoted many, many years of her life to rehabilitating raptors, shows the kids a Harris’ Hawk. The hawk is 22 years old and Sallie has had it for 21 years! Photograph taken by Justin Duke.

The hawk was robbed from the nest by the hands of some well meaning person who didn’t understand the needs of raptors. It was housed in a small wire cage, which is the worst thing you can do for any wild bird – it thrashed around in the cage breaking its feathers – its diet was probably hamburger whereas a raptor needs whole-animal prey such as mice – they need the calcium they get from the bones – without the calcium they develop metabolic bone diseases. When their diet is low in calcium, their body uses what calcium there is to carry on metabolism – This hawk has very limited flight ability as flight requires rotation of bones. All of this because of a poor diet. This bird can never be released. This sad case is all because of human ignorance, interfering in Mother Nature’s world.

Ed Sones, a rehabilitator and volunteer, holds another raptor species, a Mississippi Kite.

Imprint Doom

This bird had fallen out of a nest when only two days old. The nest was high up -100 feet in a tall pine tree in Houston. It was taken to a rehabilitator who fed him properly – crickets and mice. The rehabilitator worried about the bird imprinting on people as that was all he saw since falling from the nest. At four weeks he was brought to Ed Sones in Austin, but rehabilitators couldn’t find anyone around Austin who had any of this species. Ed took the bird to Lubbock. By this time, he was two months old. Even though with the six of his own species, he did not go on the migration with them. Instead he flew the neighborhood – landing with very sharp talons on people’s head and shoulders during outdoor barbeques, a danger to all. He was brought back to Ed who transferred him to Sallie, who now uses him for education programs such as this with J. J. Pickle Elementary School from Austin. Photograph taken by Justin Duke.

All guests are met at the “Historical Marker.” The burial site of man! Here Colleen Gardner, Executive Director of Bamberger Ranch Preserve, greets and orients the students as to what they will experience these next three days. Photograph taken by Justin Duke.

Scott Grote, Ranch Operations, demonstrates his horse and how helpful it is to him in rounding up cattle and goats. He explains just what a ranch does that contributes to their lives. The kids can touch and feel the horse. They are amazed as most only see a horse in a movie or television. Photograph taken by Colleen Gardner.

Here Justin Duke, Ranch Steward, has the young people in the water where they will sift out pond critters and later put them under a microscope to study life in the water. We supply all the boots and gear needed for all the programs. The extreme drought this year has hampered this program. Photograph taken by Steven Fulton.

Since J. J. Pickle has four fifth grade classes therefore it required all four weeks of October, one class each week, to do the program. We would be hard pressed to do this without the help of volunteers. Here Bob Boydston, a long time friend and volunteer, leads the “Pond Critters” program. Photograph taken by Justin Duke.

Steven Fulton, Ranch Biologist, leads every class on a night hike. You can imagine how the hearts of these young inner city kids were palpitating as they followed Steven down the dark trails! Each child is given a small flashlight, but asked not to use it during Steven’s program. At one of our outdoor classrooms Steven, sometime with his own lips, calls in a Screech Owl who lands within twenty feet of the kids. The night hike is a thrilling experience and much talked about from one class to the next. Photograph taken by Justin Duke.

I’m the last person the kids see prior to leaving the ranch. By now, the kids are so “into” everything in nature. In addition to that shown above they have witnessed a bat emergence from our chiroptorium, looked at the heavens through our observatory, seen dinosaur tracks, collected fossils, participated in bee keeping, learned about endangered species through our scimitar-horned oryx and more. So I have the most attentive and enthusiastic fifth graders in the world! My starting question is always the same, “How many of you would like to grow up and have a job like Big Steve (at 6’ 8” he’s called that by the kids) or Queen Colleen (she sometimes wears a tiara)?” All hands go up and I then say, “You can. Ask your teacher questions, read books and do your homework as your life will be so enriched by education.” Photograph taken by Justin Duke.

It’s here in Hes’ Country Store that I invite the kids to do a conservation project that their teacher can’t do. This interests them! The project is one of conserving family history, culture. I tell a brief story about my life when I was their age. I ask them to visit grandparents and find out about the clothes their Mom wore or the toys their Dad played with. Write it down, create a journal – a history. The best letter I ever got in my life went like this:

“Dear Mr. Bamberger,

I’m 92 years old - my granddaughter never gave a hoot about me until she came back from your place – and now thank you, sir, she comes to see me once a week with a clipboard and a pencil asking me all kinds of questions.”

We could use your financial help for this program. We’ve had some success in getting grants for it, but never enough to cover the raw costs. Your contributions will be tax deductible to the extent of the law. We are a 501(c)(3) non-profit private operating foundation. You can send your contribution to: Bamberger Ranch Preserve, 2341 Blue Ridge Drive, Johnson City, TX 78636.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

People Ranching

It was in the early 1990’s while a member of Governor Richards’ task force on nature tourism that someone first spoke the words “People Ranching.” So it’s really not original with me, but we are the ones who have popularized it. Think about this ~ in early history, ranching meant raising cattle, sheep or goats. After World War II hunting was added to what ranchers did to help support themselves and this was a departure from tradition as it involved strangers being on the ranch. The addition of exotic animals and high fences meant more income, but of course more people. This was hard to accept by some of the “old timers” but generational changes, the need for income and a new breed of landowners saw the changes coming. The reality was that the economics of traditional ranching no longer made sense. It is my contention that you cannot buy any ranchland anywhere in the state of Texas and pay for it with any form of agricultural production. Why? Because land prices are now dictated by high income people who want the quality of life offered by rural land or the price is dictated by the population growth to whom the developer caters.

Now a new ethic is developing – that being an interest in preservation, conservation and species survival. So here on Selah we invited people, young and old to come, to see and to learn from our experience. We built infrastructure and developed programs and because of this new ethic people came and thus “People Ranching” became a real thing. I understand that the term has now entered college textbooks.

Each Spring and Fall we hold a series of workshops for new landowners, agency people, teachers or anyone interested in the topic. On October 10 a one day workshop affair titled “Grasses” was attended by 22.

Our Grass trail didn’t do well this year because of the very severe drought and record high temperatures. So Steven Fulton, Ranch Biologist, propagated and nurtured 30 species in containers. Photograph taken by J. David.

The containerized grasses enable everyone to see the grasses up close and some in a mature state. Each container is labeled. Here Steven is explaining details, the nomenclature of the plants. Photograph taken by Colleen Gardner.

Colleen Gardner, Executive Director, with two of the “students.” Everyone on the staff participates in all of our workshops. Photograph taken by J. David.

Ann Baird, who deserves a Ph. D., as she has taken four of our workshops. Justin Duke, Ranch Steward, is describing Big Bluestem. Photograph taken by Colleen Gardner.

This is were it all happens! Out on the ranch. We don’t spend any time looking at videos or virtual grasses. Photograph taken by Colleen Gardner.

Steven and Justin are with the “students” at all times. This is true in all our workshops. Photograph taken by Colleen Gardner.

There’s a coffee and restroom break at the Country Store at each workshop. Photograph taken by J. David.

By mid morning we find high spirits and bonding by the “students.” Photograph taken by J. David.

Check this blog next week for more on People Ranching.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Drought Continues

September brought some relief from the all time record hundred plus degree days and we finally received some good rain - 6.15 inches. Every bit of which soaked into the ground. This was very good for the range grasses. It always amazes me how grasses can respond so quickly. All the pastures were brown and with no growth at all, yet in four days everything was green again. Wildflowers were blooming and grasses were shooting up and producing seed heads . . . . but this doesn’t end the drought. Remember that up until September we received only 11.24 inches for the year and during the hot summer months of May, June, July and August we only had 1.69 inches!

Since there was basically no runoff, our lakes, tanks and creeks are still, with a few exceptions dry. I hesitate to say the drought has a benefit, but it did give us the opportunity to remove silt from the lakes.

This tank was built in the late 1970’s. It has never been dry before and it was still boggy as the one loader got stuck in the mud. Photograph taken by J. David.

This pile of silt is 270 feet long, 50 feet wide and 6 foot high! Removal increased the tank capacity by 30 percent. After a prolonged drying out, we will spread it on the ranch. Photograph taken by J. David.

Madrone Lake, our most used recreation lake, on May 31, 2009. The creek that feeds it stopped flowing on July 28, 2008. Photograph taken by J. David.

Madrone Lake on October 8, 2009. The September rains soaked into the very dry earth. There has been no runoff to the lake nor spring activity to fill the lake. Photograph taken by J. David.

My observation of the effects of this drought on trees is that the most affected were Spanish Oaks. A Texas Forest Service representative estimated that we’ve lost 1,000! It surprised me that we lost at least five Bur Oaks. They have a tap root which goes deep into the ground. On the entire 5,500 acres I found only one Bur Oak. It’s probably 150 years old and in my 40 years here, it has never produced an acorn. We have planted all the other Bur Oaks on the ranch. Those five that died from the drought were seven to ten years old. Lacey Oak, some call it Blue Oak, and Live Oak have survived without loss. There has been some loss of Native Pecan, Walnut, BigTooth Maple, and Bald Cypress. It’s important to withhold judgement on this until next spring as some of these may come back to life.

This nice Spanish Oak shut down in late August. Aesthetically, it is a real loss as it was positioned along the road for all to see. Notice on the right a dead Bald Cypress. Photograph taken by J. David.

These are just two of many Bald Cypress we’ve introduced. Naturally there weren’t any on the ranch. I knew it was a risk to plant them at higher elevations, but since the creek had begun to run it was a good gamble. These are 40 foot tall and I don’t expect them to spring back to life as they got severely stressed in 2008 as well as in 2009. Photograph taken by J. David.

We call this the Catfish Tank. It has never gone completely dry. It has one spring and a 500 acre watershed to feed it. Photograph taken by J. David.

Obviously this tank has been dry long enough for cracks to develop and grass to grow. Photograph taken by J. David.

Because of the recent rains, one may want to declare this current drought over. This is not true. Conservation practices one may have developed due to the drought should become part of one’s life. Water is the single most important issue facing all of us.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Recycle and Reuse – Another Form of Conservation

After 40 years and nearly every tour or workshop held here on the ranch, I’m asked the question: “Is there any piece of equipment or practice that you would do differently?” My answer is always, “YES – except for chain saws (we’ve worn out 40), shop tools and an occasional new truck or stock trailer, all the big stuff was bought used for pennies on the dollar.” I believe the best buy was a D6 Catepillar bulldozer with drag scraper for $20,000. ~ Leroy has put 14,500 hours on it doing clearing, tank and road building. That’s $1,250,000 if you hired it done and you know that dozer would sell for more than $20,000 today!

Dozer Picture. Photograph taken by J. David.

Here’s my testimony. “If you have a tolerance for frustration and inconvenience, used equipment can save you 100,000s of thousands of dollars.” Now everyone doesn’t need a bulldozer. If you have a small ranch – under 200 acres – you can with a plan, time, small tools and physical work easily restore your property to nature’s balance and while doing it restore your mind and body.

Well back to my story . . . . I’ve experienced and learned a lot about land restoration, about water, wildlife, grasses, wild flowers, birds and people. I wish now that I would have bought a used commercial chipper and ground up the bulk of the cedar and other woody species that instead we burned. The thought never occurred to me then, although we eventually did windrow large amounts to help control run off and we did fill many canyons with brush. Both of these practices were very successful, but it took many years to prove so. One example was that Madrones came up through from the canyon floor, protected by the brush, now long gone. Wildlife habitat was created in those 10 foot tall windrows, but in the hundreds of piles of burned brush nothing but scorched earth remained. Flying over it looked like large sunspots. The soil was sterilized and all this through my ignorance. The first plant life in these burned spots emerged after 3 years. It was Horehound and our honey bees loved it as all our honey for 3 years tasted strongly of it. Now, there are practices learned today you can do to mitigate the sterilizing that comes with burning. Scott Gardner at Browning Ranch did research on this and has developed the practice. But just think how much biodegradable material went up in smoke! It could have been chipped and distributed back onto these barren caliche hillsides where it was sorely needed and the composting, the returning to the earth sped up by 20 years.

In the fall of 2004 as I was driving through Blanco, Texas, there at a business sat a Vermeer 625 chipper. Just what I’d wished for! I recorded the serial number, number of hours on the machine, looked it over carefully and vowed to come back for an equipment auction and buy it if it was to be a bargain. We verified everything through the very cooperative manufacturer. In today’s market, it sold new for $14,000 and with a low number of hours it should bring $8,000 to $10,000 at auction.

The day of the auction, I had a role to play in a workshop here on the ranch so I enlisted Scott Grote, our Ranch Operations Manager who also is a very good negotiator, to attend the auction and bid on the chipper, but “do not go over $5,000.” At mid-morning, Scott called to say, “The bid is $5,200; what should I do?” I said, “Come home.”

Some years ago but after I quit smoking, a friend said to me when I bummed a cigarette, “Damn it, Bamberger, you’re rich! Buy your own.” – I replied, “Well, you don’t get rich buying cigarettes!” Also, you won’t get rich if you’re casual about how you handle money. Develop a philosophy about money and live by it. You can do everything on your land that we did here irregardless of how much money you have in the bank – believe me!

Six months pass and I’m driving through little Blanco, Texas and my head does a turn ~ there on the same lot is that very same Vermeer 625 Chipper with a for sale sign! The gentlemen said that some fancy city guy bought it here at an auction, but it was too much for him to handle. He asked us to sell it for him. “What’s he asking?” “$2,000,” he replied! Patience? Luck? At any rate we now have a very useful piece of equipment that fulfills a valuable role here on Selah.

There are smaller models of other brands, but if you have a lot to do and a period of years to do it, this is an ideal model. Maintenance is important to cut down on frustration! Photograph taken by J. David.

We learned the hard way! The chipper sent a missile through the truck window! Expensive lesson. Here, Steven Fulton makes sure that doesn’t happen again. Photograph taken by J. David.

Who would have thought that the chipper would find another way to strike? A missile took out the outside rear mirror. Another costly lesson! Now, it’s folded in before feeding the chipper. Photograph taken by J. David.

You can’t feed the chipper until you prepare its diet! Steven Fulton handles the chainsaw. Photograph taken by J. David.

Justin Duke feeding cut limbs, trunks and branches into the chipper. The very valuable wood chips fill the truck bed. Photograph taken by J. David.

The truck is full. It took about one hour to cut and grind this much once we arrived at the job site. The shack in the background of these pictures is a whole new blog story soon to come.

Justin Duke and Steven Fulton unloading at one or our trailheads. Valuable mulch that we also use on new tree plantings. Photograph taken by J. David.