J. David Bamberger’s Selah, Bamberger Ranch Preserve stands as a motivating symbol of the power of private landowner conservation.
Much like Aldo Leopold, who purchased spent Wisconsin land in 1935 and worked to restore it, Bamberger’s 5,500 acre ranch near Austin was in a poor condition when he purchased it in 1969. The ranch was overrun with Ashe juniper, which allowed for virtually no water infiltration and a lack of healthy grassland. Soil erosion was prevalent and wildlife species were sparse.
Bamberger’s transformation of the ranch is truly a story of “water from stone.” The Selah, Bamberger Ranch Preserve is one of the largest scale habitat restoration projects in Texas. Early restoration efforts included removal of the Ashe juniper, returning the ranch to grassland. This allowed numerous natural springs to return, furnishing all of the water for the ranch. All homes and buildings on the ranch were built at lower elevations, allowing all of the water supply to be gravity-fed. Overflow from the springs forms the headwaters of Miller Creek, which flows into the Colorado River via the Pedernales.
Under Bamberger’s land management practices, the ranch has experienced a remarkable increase in vegetation and wildlife, including the endangered Golden-cheeked warbler and Black-capped vireo. The African Scimitar Horned Oryx, which is on the ranch as part of a cooperative effort between Selah, Bamberger Ranch Preserve and the American Zoological and Aquarium Association. The program breeds the Oryx and provides them free of charge to Senegal and Gambia, their native countries.
The ranch also utilizes an innovative approach to pest management. The Chiroptorium, a manmade bat cave that houses about 200,000 bats, minimizes the need for pesticide and provides shelter for bats, which are losing habitat in central Texas due to urban development.
Bamberger’s conservation philosophy extends beyond the ranch’s boundaries. His ranch is home to numerous research projects, and Bamberger engages in what he calls “People Ranching,” hosting 4,000 guests annually for private tours, school field trips, bird counts, hikes, and camps. These efforts were expanded by his late wife, Margaret, who had a strong belief in the importance of outdoor education. The Bambergers worked with several community service organizations through the years, advocating the importance of private land stewardship.