Grasses, Politics and Education

Our current State Legislature is considering a bill to allow ranchers to retain their agricultural exemption if they maintain a healthy grass cover on their rangeland. Why would this be good for the people? It’s really quite simple. Range grasses prevent runoff of precious soil. They allow rainfall to percolate into the earth refilling our underground aquifers. Grasses filter out harmful chemicals such as pesticides, fertilizers and herbicides making water pure and less expensive to our homes . . . . Grass is the cheapest, fastest and most efficient conservation practice there is and that’s why I support this bill.


I was asked to testify before a Senate Committee on Senate Bill 449 authored by Senator Kirk Watson. The hearing was on March 26, 2011. I thought it would be a real eye opener if the committee could see what a totally unseen part of grass is like. Joanna Rees and I spent the better half of the previous day digging deep into the earth to get the roots of grass. We dug up three species – Little Bluestem, Indian Grass and Lindheimer Muhly, each having differing root systems. I’ve been told there is a government bulletin that states that in one square yard of a prairie the roots would be 9 miles long! Going through security at the Capital I was asked what I had in the bag. When I said, “GRASS,” they said, “NOT THE SMOKING KIND!!!” They are not used to this sort of show taking place in the Capital!


Unfortunately, the Senators didn’t allow me enough time to really extol the many virtues of grass. The hearing room was crowded, standing room only. The timing light came on and the buzzer rang. The Chairman spoke through the microphone, “Mr. Bamberger, your time is up”, but I protested and continued. By this time I had the grasses out and dirt was falling all over the table. At this point the chairman interrupted my testimony, “Are we to understand, Mr. Bamberger, that grasses are important for the conservation of water?” to which I replied, “You’ve got it!” The crowded hearing room loved the performance and gave me a strong ovation.


The following day I had the opportunity to use the grasses again. This was at the Thompson Conference Center on the UT campus where we were giving our conservation experience to a continuing education group for Seniors known as Quest. 50 of the members had visited Selah a few weeks prior to this day.


The goal of the Quest Program is to provide those who participate with continuing intellectual growth in a campus environment. The Thompson Center is one of my very favorite places to speak. It is equipped with the very latest technology and young people there to help with its operations.


Another opportunity to use the grasses came up on March 29, 2011 when Andy Sansom, Executive Director of The River City Institute and Research Professor of Geography at Texas State University at San Marcos, invited me to speak to his class which also included continuing education adults from the community. Andy is one who really knows, appreciates and teaches the value to society of grasses.


I shared the evening with Matt & Peggy Winkler. The Winklers have 1800 acres on the Pedernales upon which they have cleared much of the cedar and established good grass cover. Actions like this stabilize river banks and allow the Pedernales to flow clear clean water. The Winklers have also made a gift to society by placing a conservation easement on their ranch, thus protecting it from development in perpetuity.


It was 1959 when I bought my first ranch, 205 acres just twenty miles north of San Antonio. At that time, there were very few universities that offered classes on the environment. Conservation didn’t seem to be of much concern. Now, thanks to a great awakening college classes are full of young people anxious to learn and to apply that learning to solving America’s many environmental problems. I’m so glad that Selah, not just me, but all of us that live here, can by our example play a role in this learning process.

All photographs by Joanna Rees.

This Place is Different

Here at Selah’s 5,500 acres we not only operate a working ranch with cattle, goats, hunting and hay making, but also we share the ranch with thousands of young people and adults through our many education programs and our outreach programs such as this blog on grasses . . . . But here’s where we are so very, very different. We do all of this with just five employees and some volunteers . . . . It’s been ten weeks since I’ve written my blog and that’s because we need help, but that takes money. I invite you to come here and experience this place and its people before making a commitment. This place is different. You will find no gift shops, vending machines or cafés. It’s all preserved for nature, pure and simple and that’s worth saving. We are a 501(c)3 private operating foundation. We have an outside Board of Directors and contributions are deductible to the extent of the law. Please call us at 830-868-2630.