Sunday, November 1, 2009

People Ranching – Continues

It was in the mid1990’s that we really got big into People Ranching. I can assure you that ranching people requires more preparation and more planning than traditional cattle ranching.

As the economics of cattle ranching began to fade away and with generation changes and so did attitudes and interest in the environment, in conservation and in endangered species issues change, I found that the effort and experience gained here had unknowingly positioned Selah as a place to demonstrate just what can be achieved with habitat restoration. We were constantly being asked to speak to groups as well as requests to visit, especially after articles began showing up in newspapers, magazines and on television.

One day after I put had an exhausting two days, more or less showing off Selah to individuals, couples and groups who were eager to hear the gospel of conservation from me, Margaret said, “David, you’re wearing yourself out. You’ve had ten different guests; you’ve spent hours and hours with them. You can’t keep this up.” I replied, “People either own ranches and or have just bought land and they are searching for answers. I’m eager to help them.” “But you can’t keep this up. Why not just tell everyone that calls you’re going to hold a public tour this Saturday and for $5.00 per person you’ll show them what you’ve done, how you did it and answer questions. Tell them to be at the front gate at 9 a.m.” I’m supposed to be the businessman, but I never thought of this! Well, come Saturday morning I loaded bales of hay on a trailer thinking that maybe 10 or 15 people might be at the gate. Was I surprised – there was a crowd! We had two-way radios and I called for help and another trailer. I really don’t remember exactly how many people were there that day, it was more than 50, but this is when People Ranching began.

I’ve never inherited any money – what I did inherit, mostly from my mother Hester, was a love and respect for the natural world. In 1980, she died and I built, Hes’ Country Store, which came to be the first “infrastructure” that facilitated People Ranching. It was a gathering place, a place to sit and talk, a place to have a drink or to eat one’s lunch. A place to pause and reflect – Selah – places that can serve this purpose can be patios with picnic tables, or perhaps primitive seating along a trail or at some viewshed. To go into People Ranching you must develop some “infrastructure” and you must like people as a rancher likes his cows.

There is much more infrastructure we built that followed Hes’ Country Store and I’ll talk more in future postings on this blog, but I do add this admonishment: “Never initiate an action you are unable to sustain.”

Please bear with me. You can see a glimpse of Hes’ Country Store in the picture, but what today’s blog is about is People Ranching. Notice the tree planted with the corral protecting it. One treasured memory I have as a small boy is being with my mom many times planting trees, mostly Apple. Later she called me ‘Johnny Appleseed.’ Photograph taken by J. David.

What I’m doing across from Hes’ Country Store is building a forest! Our goal is to have at least one tree or shrub in our “forest” of every species that grows naturally in Blanco County. We’re now at 42 with many more to go and to grow. Some of the early introductions are 15 feet tall. Photograph taken by J. David.

Here now is People Ranching – Our Tree and Shrub Workshop. This was held October 17, 2009. There are many useful tips we’ve learned from planting more than 3,500 trees these past 40 years. We start with selecting the tree in a nursery, to digging a square hole! There is much more, but one thing is certain: A tree planted in the Hill Country must be protected from wild animals and livestock or you will lose it. In this workshop, you will learn to use a “key” that will help you identify a tree you may never have seen before! Here in the “forest” you will take, at the end of the day, your final exam. I will not live to see our forest reach full maturity, but I have the joy and pleasure of building and planting it. Photograph taken by Lois Sturm.

It was such a treat for all our adult students to have Jim Rhoades, our “Tree Aggie,” and his son, “Little Tree,” with us this day. Jim has a degree in Urban Forestry from Texas A&M. For 25 years, he helped me and taught me and others so very much about trees. He added so much to this workshop. Photograph taken by Lois Sturm.

Our classroom for all of the workshops is the entire 5500 acres! We use the “Bluebonnet” to move you from one site to another. Photograph taken by Lois Sturm.

There is a high point on the ranch of about 100 acres where the soil is different than most, a Redlands site. It’s on this site where Black Jack Oak and Post Oak predominate. Steven Fulton, Ranch Biologist, teaches the course. Photograph taken by Lois Sturm.

The Lindheimer Trail is just the opposite of the Redlands site. Probably six miles of separation between them. It’s down in a valley where for hundreds of years soil has been eroded off the steep hillsides. This has created a climate for bigger trees to prosper. There are no Post Oak or Black Jack Oak here. It covers an area of 100 acres and is the only area where Lacey Oak and Cedar Elms predominate. There are numerous other species here, but not in large numbers (other than Ashe Juniper, Cedar). They are Spanish Oak, Eve’s Necklace, Red and Yellow Buckeye and Escarpment Cherry. Because of the deep soil we have been adding Bur Oak and along the creek some Chinkapin Oaks. Photograph taken by Lois Sturm.

Along the trails we have built, with basically no expense, outdoor classrooms. (This is part of the “infrastructure.”) We used recycled boards from the floor of our cattle trailer and the sawed off ends of fence posts. Here the workshop participants get to ask questions and with the help of Susan Sander, a volunteer, formerly with the Texas Forest Service discuss tree health, ball moss and oak wilt. Photograph taken by Lois Sturm.

I’m teaching all the wonderful young people that work here to have a respect for O.P.M. – “Other People’s Money.” They are taking this to heart. Here they are, managing 5500 acres, with all that entails then add people ranching with 3500 visits per year. I doubt that any nature center in the U.S.A. operates so efficiently with a staff of five and yet we run a deficit every year. Will you please help by sending us a contribution which is tax deductible to the extent of the law. We are a 501(c)(3) private operating foundation. You can send your contributions to: Bamberger Ranch Preserve, 2341 Blue Ridge Drive, Johnson City, TX 78636.

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