Blanco County Ranch to Receive Leopold Conservation Award for Texas

Tom Harvey, 512-389-4453,

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J. David Bamberger Celebrates 40-Year Legacy Linking Land and Water

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AUSTIN, Texas — On May 27 in Austin, Selah-Bamberger Ranch Preserve in Blanco County will receive the 2009 Leopold Conservation Award for Texas from Sand County Foundation and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, part of the department’s Lone Star Land Steward Awards program.

"Texas has become an urban state, in that most of us now live in cities," said Carter Smith, TPWD executive director. "Yet the wonderful story of Selah-Bamberger Ranch Preserve reminds us that our lives and our future are tied to healthy ecosystems-to clean water, diverse wildlife, green hills, and all those resources that lie mostly outside the urban footprint. Urban Texas owes these rural land stewards a tip of the hat, and none personifies the conservation ethic better than David Bamberger."

For the fifth year, the Lone Star Land Steward Awards benefit from an association with Sand County Foundation, an international non-profit organization devoted to private lands conservation. Each ecological region award recipient and the wildlife management association recipient will receive $1,000 from the Foundation, while Selah-Bamberger Ranch Preserve as Leopold Conservation Award recipient will receive $10,000 and the Leopold crystal award.

The Leopold Conservation Award honors the legacy of Aldo Leopold (1887-1948), considered the father of wildlife ecology. His collection of essays, "A Sand County Almanac," remains one of the world’s best-selling natural history books. Leopold’s godson, Reed Coleman, formed Sand County Foundation in 1965 to protect the Leopold farm from encroaching lot development along the Wisconsin River.

"In the 1930s, Aldo Leopold and his family bought a worn out Wisconsin farmstead and lovingly nursed it back to health, said Brent Haglund, Ph.D., Sand County Foundation president. "Likewise, Mr. Bamberger and his family applied the same kind of insight, patience and skill to restore productivity and beauty to the degraded lands they purchased. I couldn’t think of a more fitting recipient of the award that bears Leopold’s name."

Selah-Bamberger Ranch Preserve is being recognized for numerous land and water conservation and environmental education achievements accumulated over the past 40 years. Ranch founder J. David Bamberger was among those who had the idea to create the Lone Star Land Steward Awards program 14 years ago when he served on the TPWD Private Lands Advisory Board.

"I’m very proud of every award we’ve ever received, but I think this is the most prestigious," Bamberger said. "I would like to think I was somewhat like Aldo Leopold in what we do, as his philosophy about land matches my own. I’ve always been kind of outspoken, but I’m humbled by this award."

Bamberger, now 81, came to Texas in the 1950s in modest circumstances, selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door with Bill Church, whose dad owned four chicken restaurants in San Antonio. David read a book on franchising, and suggested the idea to Bill. When Church’s Fried Chicken went public on the New York Stock Exchange in 1969, they became millionaires.

Soon after, David went looking to buy the worst ranch in the Hill Country, explaining that he deliberately wanted to show how overgrazed and damaged land could be restored and made healthy again by removing invasive cedar trees, replanting native grasses, light/rotational cattle grazing, prescribed fire, and other tools.

Four decades later, Bamberger’s innovation, passion and success have made him a legend in land conservation circles. The 5,500-acre ranch is known as a place where rocky and eroded pastures became lush and green, and dry creeks and springs began to flow again.

"This ranch is more than a restored, beautiful property in a critical watershed," said Colleen Gardner, Bamberger Ranch Preserve executive director. "It represents how one person can make a difference. It’s what society in general doesn’t hear often enough-good news stories about the environment. In this media age of hearing so much about global warming, and the polar bears are going to go extinct and what have you, this ranch shows Mother Nature can be repaired."

The ranch has used its demonstrated achievements as the basis for environmental education and outreach to schools and other rural landowners. About 3,500 visitors to the ranch each year, and about half are school students from Austin, San Antonio and the surrounding region. Hundreds of landowners and others come from around the state and nation to attend workshops on restoring native grasses, trees, and water resources.

For example, the ranch has built multi-year relationships with Metz and Pickle Elementary Schools in Austin, where the ranch uses donations and grant funds to transport schoolkids to the property and provide hands-on science learning.

"After two years of going to Bamberger Ranch, student science scores improved by 30 percentage points from around 52 to 81," said Joel de la Garza, now principal of Pickle Elementary, former principal of Metz Elementary. "I’m not saying it was only the ranch tours, but I do believe the hands-on experiences at the ranch were an important reason for the improvement in scores. Just being able to be in the outdoors for students who normally live in the city and don’t have those experiences, seeing land formations and biological systems, it’s just awesome. It’s an eye-opener for those kids and very, very positive. They’ll remember those things for life."

Much of the ranch’s educational legacy reflects the work and passion of David’s wife Margaret Bamberger, who died of cancer in March and was buried on the ranch.

Other ranch achievements include:

  • Construction of a chiroptorium or artificial bat cave, now home to some 200,000 Mexican free-tailed bats each summer, the site of university research regarding how bats help pollinate crops and control insect pests.
  • Efforts to save an endangered flowering tree called Texas Snowbells, including a greenhouse dedicated to raising the plant. Over five years, the ranch has planted 682 plants on dozens of other private ranches totaling more than 120,000 acres.
  • Replanting more than 3,000 native trees throughout the ranch
  • Cooperative effort with the American Zoological and Aquarium Association to aid an endangered antelope, the African Scimitar Homed Oryx. After 25 years of work, the ranch now provides animals to help restock Senegal and Gambia.
  • The book, "Water From Stone: The Story of Selah-Bamberger Ranch Preserve" by Jeffrey Greene is among the best selling books from Texas A&M University Press, and is required reading for many chapters of Texas Master Naturalists.

Sponsors for the 14th annual Lone Star Land Steward Awards include Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation, H. Yturria Land and Cattle Company, Texas Wildlife Association, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Lower Colorado River Authority, Texas AgFinance, Texas Farm Bureau, Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, Texas Agricultural Land Trust, and Llano Springs Ranch, Ltd.

The Leopold Conservation Award is a competitive award that recognizes landowner achievement in voluntary conservation. In 2009, Sand County Foundation will present Leopold Conservation Awards in Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, Texas, Utah and California. The awards are presented to accomplish three objectives: First, they recognize extraordinary achievement in voluntary conservation on the land of exemplary private landowners. Second, they inspire other landowners in their own communities through these examples. Finally, they provide a visible forum where leaders from the agriculture community are recognized as conservation leaders to groups outside of agriculture.

More information about Selah-Bamberger Ranch Preserve is on the ranch Web site.

More information about the awards, including how to nominate property owners, is on the TPWD Web site. Nominations are accepted June 1 through Nov. 30 each year for the following year’s awards program.

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