Sunday, 29 April, 2001
Debra and I joined her Master Gardener group today for a trip to Bamberger Ranch, in Blanco County south of Austin. If you've ever been to a typical Central or West Texas ranch, this one will surprise you. Where you'd normally see cedar breaks, large stands of mesquite trees, lots of prickly pear cactus, and acres of bare soil or very little vegetation, on this 5,500 acres you see native grasses, running streams, and many different kinds of native hardwood trees. This is what the Hill Country looked like before ranchers' practices of over grazing and fire suppression destroyed the native grasses. When David Bamberger bought the Ranch in 1969, the State agricultural agent estimated that it could support one head of cattle for every 41 acres. Now it will support one head every 18 acres. In 1969 they cataloged 48 different species of birds on the Ranch. Today they have over 150 species, including many that are considered endangered. These bird species were not artificially reintroduced to the area.
There's so much to see and learn on the Ranch that I could easily spend a week there and not get bored. They have a Chiroptorium (a man-made cave built to house a million bats), and the largest known herd of Scimitar-horned Oryx in existence anywhere today. This species of Oryx, native to Africa, is extinct in the wild. The Ranch, in connection with the Species Survival Plan Program, has set aside 640 acres for the Oryx with the intention of reintroducing it into its native habitat. Sadly, environmental conditions in its native African habitat are so bad that the species' survival there is doubtful.
I am beginning to realize that we humans can have a very large impact on our environment. But it doesn't have to be that way. Like anything else, the quick and easy route is fine in the short term, but makes for long term problems. By studying and working with natural processes, we can have self-sustaining farms and ranches that are much more productive in the long term.