Friday, May 13, 2011

Grasses, Politics and Education

Our current State Legislature is considering a bill to allow ranchers to retain their agricultural exemption if they maintain a healthy grass cover on their rangeland. Why would this be good for the people? It’s really quite simple. Range grasses prevent runoff of precious soil. They allow rainfall to percolate into the earth refilling our underground aquifers. Grasses filter out harmful chemicals such as pesticides, fertilizers and herbicides making water pure and less expensive to our homes . . . . Grass is the cheapest, fastest and most efficient conservation practice there is and that’s why I support this bill.

I was asked to testify before a Senate Committee on Senate Bill 449 authored by Senator Kirk Watson. The hearing was on March 26, 2011. I thought it would be a real eye opener if the committee could see what a totally unseen part of grass is like. Joanna Rees and I spent the better half of the previous day digging deep into the earth to get the roots of grass. We dug up three species – Little Bluestem, Indian Grass and Lindheimer Muhly, each having differing root systems. I’ve been told there is a government bulletin that states that in one square yard of a prairie the roots would be 9 miles long! Going through security at the Capital I was asked what I had in the bag. When I said, “GRASS,” they said, “NOT THE SMOKING KIND!!!” They are not used to this sort of show taking place in the Capital! Photograph taken by Joanna Rees.

Unfortunately, the Senators didn’t allow me enough time to really extol the many virtues of grass. The hearing room was crowded, standing room only. The timing light came on and the buzzer rang. The Chairman spoke through the microphone, “Mr. Bamberger, your time is up”, but I protested and continued. By this time I had the grasses out and dirt was falling all over the table. At this point the chairman interrupted my testimony, “Are we to understand, Mr. Bamberger, that grasses are important for the conservation of water?” to which I replied, “You’ve got it!” The crowded hearing room loved the performance and gave me a strong ovation. Photograph taken by Joanna Rees.

The following day I had the opportunity to use the grasses again. This was at the Thompson Conference Center on the UT campus where we were giving our conservation experience to a continuing education group for Seniors known as Quest. 50 of the members had visited Selah a few weeks prior to this day. Photograph taken by Joanna Rees.

The goal of the Quest Program is to provide those who participate with continuing intellectual growth in a campus environment. The Thompson Center is one of my very favorite places to speak. It is equipped with the very latest technology and young people there to help with its operations. Photograph taken by Joanna Rees.

Another opportunity to use the grasses came up on March 29, 2011 when Andy Sansom, Executive Director of The River City Institute and Research Professor of Geography at Texas State University at San Marcos, invited me to speak to his class which also included continuing education adults from the community. Andy is one who really knows, appreciates and teaches the value to society of grasses. Photograph taken by Joanna Rees.

I shared the evening with Matt & Peggy Winkler. The Winklers have 1800 acres on the Pedernales upon which they have cleared much of the cedar and established good grass cover. Actions like this stabilize river banks and allow the Pedernales to flow clear clean water. The Winklers have also made a gift to society by placing a conservation easement on their ranch, thus protecting it from development in perpetuity. Photograph taken by Joanna Rees.

It was 1959 when I bought my first ranch, 205 acres just twenty miles north of San Antonio. At that time, there were very few universities that offered classes on the environment. Conservation didn’t seem to be of much concern. Now, thanks to a great awakening college classes are full of young people anxious to learn and to apply that learning to solving America’s many environmental problems. I’m so glad that Selah, not just me, but all of us that live here, can by our example play a role in this learning process. Photograph taken by Joanna Rees.

Here at Selah’s 5500 acres we not only operate a working ranch with cattle, goats, hunting and hay making, but also we share the ranch with thousands of young people and adults through our many education programs and our outreach programs such as this blog on grasses . . . . But here’s where we are so very, very different. We do all of this with just five employees and some volunteers . . . . It’s been ten weeks since I’ve written my blog and that’s because we need help, but that takes money. I invite you to come here and experience this place and its people before making a commitment. This place is different. You will find no gift shops, vending machines or caf├ęs. It’s all preserved for nature, pure and simple and that’s worth saving. We are a 501c3 private operating foundation. We have an outside Board of Directors and contributions are deductible to the extent of the law. Please call us at 830-868-2630.

Sunday, February 27, 2011


This week I visited an old friend in a rehabilitation hospital in San Antonio. My friend had been in intensive care for the last 4 ½ months. He underwent seven operations in a series of events that began with a check in at the hospital for pneumonia. My friend is 86 years old. I cannot begin to tell you how all of this built up, but one of the seven operations resulted in my friend losing his leg. During this 4 ½ months he drank no water, ate no food nor used his voice. My friend had just been moved into this rehabilitation center the day before my visit. Surprisingly, he looked good and was able to talk a little. When he told me how much he missed and longed to drink a glass of water, how he longed to eat and chew and swallow. It made an impression on me that I shall never forget. My friend has a ranch in the Hill Country and said how he longed to be there. I surely understand that as well. My friend will be undergoing physical therapy, learning how to walk with a prosthesis, developing muscle mass again and also speech therapy. It will be a long road back. How fortunate are you and I to have our health, our family, our friends and our love of Mother Nature, the natural world . . . . . . So what does this have to do with passion?

As I walked into the facility, the very first impression, just the very few first steps into the door, everything was neat and clean. The people I met in the hallway, the elevator, the nurses’ station, everything and everyone reminded me of the young staff here at Selah. I’ve always said that nothing great will be achieved without enthusiasm. Enthusiasm comes from a love of your life and what you are doing with your life and therefore, enthusiasm comes from passion. My friend has persevered not only because of his determination, but because of the passion of the caregivers. As I left my friend, I saw a small poster with this definition of passion. It’s impactful. It should be in the dictionary -


Steven Fulton, Ranch Biologist, and Colleen Gardner, Executive Director, plan and carry out the programs. It’s not an nine to five day. Photograph taken by Joanna Rees.

Bonham Elementary School kids were here for two days this week. Bonham is a Title One 125 year old school in the inner city of San Antonio. Good parenting and teachers who are passionate about their role in shaping these young people’s lives are so important to the future health of, not only these children, but our nation. Photograph taken by Joanna Rees.

Hes’ Country Store. It’s the last place where the kids come to before leaving the ranch. That’s me, J. David Bamberger, telling stories about my childhood. I’m passionate about the Store and the Ranch and want it to continue as a model to educate others. Even Cory, my dog, plays a role here by climbing a tree – that really gets the kids attention. The real story here is one overlooked in school. It’s encouraging the kids to visit their grandparents, to learn about the family’s past, to ask questions of them and to keep a journal about the experience. Photograph taken by Joanna Rees.

Selah will go on because of the passion of young people like Steven Fulton and Colleen Gardner and you who share our passion.

Perhaps you never thought about it, but Title One school children’s parents as well as the school do not have the money to send their kids to Selah for three days or to have trees planted on their campus. Frankly, neither do we. So we ask for financial assistance from people and sources who feel as we do about the need for nature exposure. If you would like to help us with a donation, we are a 501(c)(3) private operating foundation and gifts are deductible to the extent of the law. You can send your contributions to: Bamberger Ranch Preserve, 2341 Blue Ridge Drive, Johnson City, TX 78636 or donate through your computer by using PayPal.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Video of the J.J. Pickle School Visit

As a follow-up to David’s posting this Sunday, readers might be interested to know that Colleen Gardner, Executive Director of the Ranch, created the following video of the J.J. Pickle school visit. Have a look.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Passion, Reverence, Venerate

From Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary:

Passion – extreme, compelling emotion, intense emotional drive or excitement; specifically a) enthusiasm or fondness; b) strong love or affection

Reverence – a feeling or attitude of deep respect, love, awe and esteem

Venerate – to look upon with deep respect and reverence. Synonyms – honor, respect, adore, reverence

“Three Little Words” though not so little in what they mean . . . . . . I see it here on the ranch every day, but this particular day was special. It began at 6 a.m. and ended at 6 p.m. That’s 12 hours of physical labor mixed with 6 hours of emotion – PASSION, REVERENCE and VENERATION.

Ranch staff Lois Sturm, Colleen Gardner, Steven Fulton and intern Michael Galster arrive at the lobby entrance of J.J. Pickle Elementary School at 7 a.m. The plan for this day is to plant, with the help of these young kids, four trees on the campus of the school. That’s one tree for each class that had visited the ranch. Steven had grown these trees from seeds collected here on the ranch. They are Golden Ball Lead Tree, Desert Willow, Shumard Oak and Monterrey Oak. Photograph taken by Judith Hutcheson.

J. J. Pickle is a Title One elementary school in East Austin. Being in East Austin it serves what is known as a poor neighborhood. The school has four 5th grade classes. . . . Over a one month period each class gets to come to the ranch for a three day two night field trip. For the most part these kids don’t have a grandfather who owns a ranch so being here, experiencing the natural world, going to bed and waking up in silence instead of sirens, these experiences can be life changing for the kids ~ REVERENCE. I know they are for us.

The principal had the students assembled in the school’s auditorium to greet us. This was a big day for them as well as the school. PASSION – the kids were so happy to see “Big Steve” and “Queen Colleen” again. You had to be there to witness the tears and the joy of this sight. Photograph taken by Colleen Gardner.

It was not only us that were mobbed. Colleen had taken her dog, “Buttercup”, along. The kids remembered Buttercup and the fun with her on their ranch visit. Photograph taken by Sofia LaTorre.

It was a cold day, but the kids were eager to help dig the holes. Photograph taken by Lois Sturm.

Steven describes every step of the planting: dig a square hole so the roots can grow outward, don’t plant too deep, use mulch or a weed barrier to keep the ground cool and damp. Photograph taken by Lois Sturm.

Every tree is protected with a steel cage and a plaque is added that describes the tree. Photograph taken by Lois Sturm.

This is Mr. Thompson’s class. The tree is a Golden Ball Lead Tree. Each class has pledged to “look after” their specific tree. Photograph taken by Judith Hutcheson. The following letter was written to us by one of the young students after they spent three days at the ranch.

Here’s Ms. Sayree’s class of young naturalists along with “Buttercup.” Their tree is a Desert Willow, a flowering tree. Photograph taken by Judith Hutcheson. And here’s another letter ~ REVERENCE.

Ms. Pruitt’s 5th grade class now has a Shumard Oak to care for. Here’s another letter from these kids. Photograph taken by Judith Hutcheson. The appreciation for the ranch experience is evident in all these letters ~ VENERATION.

Ms. LaTorre’s class planted the Monterrey Oak. The excitement of these 5th grade kids over the contribution of these trees and the time at the ranch travels through the school. The 4th grade anticipates their ranch trip next year ~ REVERENCE. Photograph taken by Judith Hutcheson.

You can tell by these letters what it has meant to these city born children to have spent three days on the ranch, a natural world without television and other modern day gadgets and to have spent that time with these educated, interesting and passionate young people.

This small staff is incredible, they are my heroes. They never cease to amaze me. They most certainly are not paid large amounts. No, they are PASSIONATE, REVERENT and VENERABLE . . . . Pictured left to right: Michael Galster, Lois Sturm, Steven Fulton, Colleen Gardner. Photograph taken by Judith Htcheson.

In the past few years there has been much written, much discussion and some action about children in nature and children with “nature deficit disorder.” Here at Selah for the past twenty years, we’ve been doing something about it, but I must say the real success of programs such as these is because of the PASSION, REVERENCE and VENERATION of Colleen Gardner, Steven Fulton, Lois Sturm, Michael Galster and volunteers who don’t look at a clock . . . After this emotion packed day at J.J. Pickle School, they arrived back at the ranch and found enough time to “work” the bees!

Steven Fulton, Colleen Gardner, Lois Sturm and Michael Galster. Photograph taken by J.David.

Perhaps you never thought about it, but Title One school children’s parents as well as the school do not have the money to send their kids to Selah for three days or to have trees planted on their campus. Frankly, neither do we. So we ask for financial assistance from people and sources who feel as we do about the need for nature exposure. If you would like to help us with a donation, we are a 501(c)(3) private operating foundation and gifts are deductible to the extent of the law. You can send your contributions to: Bamberger Ranch Preserve, 2341 Blue Ridge Drive, Johnson City, TX 78636 or donate through your computer by using PayPal.