Avoiding Extinction by Adapting, Rancher Style

By: Amos S. Eno
Posted on:01/24/2012

David Bamberger of the Selah Ranch Preserve in Texas, is an advocate of habitat restoration not only for quality of life but also for “the economics of life.”  His deer hunting lease is his biggest source of income from the land, generating about $60,000 net per year.  He also charges a $15 admission for visitation (by reservation only).  In addition, Bamberger has set up a 501-c-3 foundation to raise a $10 million endowment for management of Selah in perpetuity.  The ranch deed restrictions are strict; for example, no cell phone towers are allowed.

I asked him why more people don’t do this type of thing.  Bamberger believes there are several reasons:  the family farm has gone out of style and younger generations are not as interested in farming; a lot of agricultural production has moved overseas; and he also believes that to go into farming or ranching, you now have to be a multi-millionaire.  The price of land is so high - reflecting demand for development - that incomes from working land can’t support the sale price.

Losing a Way of Life

“It’s a tragedy because it’s not just a way of life we’re losing,” says Bamberger forcefully, “it’s knowledge about natural forces and how everything works together.  We keep wiping out species and at some point down the road . . .” a pause . . . “I believe I’m connected to a leaf on a tree in some unknown mysterious way that science can’t explain,” he says quietly.  “As we silently lose species diversity and interactions, pretty soon WE will end up the endangered species.”  

Like many of the innovative ranchers featured in Keep Working Lands Working, Bamberger is sharing his expertise, both on his website and by offering the services of both himself and his staff biologist to consult with landowners who require expert land management advice.

Worst Texas Drought in Recorded History

The current drought in Texas has definitely affected Selah Ranch Preserve.  Bamberger says it is the worst in Texas recorded history.  “This sort of thing is going to go on all over the U.S.,” avers Bamberger.  “People in the U.S. are in denial about global warming and climate change, and the issue of water shortage is going to go all across the planet.”  

Bamberger says the Texas drought didn’t start in 2011 but has been going on since 2008; however, “2011 did us in.” In 2011, they experienced more than 80 days of 100+ temperatures with high winds.  They received less than 4” from Sept. 26 2010 to Sept 26 2011.

“The only things that ever went extinct were those that could not adapt to a changing environment,” says Bamberger, “and this adaptation project includes us.”  Bamberger’s way of adapting is to sell off his cattle, as many others have done.  From 120 head in 2009 plus 400 goats he is now down to zero.  “I’m not going to tear down 43 years of conservation work for the sake of having cows!” he says.

Bamberger’s passion has been to stake out territory in the Lonestar state to reverse its decline.  His goal is not only to restore the land but to awaken a passion for learning about it among the people who visit Selah.  Unfortunately, next spring and summer Selah public education visitation may be curtailed by 50%.  “During the drought, we will likely have to cut back our education programs to lessen the foot traffic.  

“This place is reserved for Mother Nature to be as protective of her as possible,” concludes Bamberger.