Blanco County ranch receives Leopold conservation award

Bamberger celebrates 40-year legacy linking land and water

On May 27 in Austin, Selah- Bamberger Ranch Preserve in Blanco County will receive the 2009 Leopold Conser vation 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 R anch Preser ve 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 w ild life ma nagement a sso - ciation 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.

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 come 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. ON THE WEB:

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