The Nature Writers of Texas

The best nature writing from the newspaper, magazine, blog and book authors of the Lone Star State . . .

Monday, May 05, 2003

Conservation and Preservation: Land Stewardship
Bill Lindemann, Fredericksburg Standard/Radio Post, Kerrville Daily Times, May 2003, © 2003

As a naturalist I am concerned about the long term vitality of the Texas Hill Country. We enjoy a wonderful natural heritage and it is important to me to do what I can to insure that our future generations have that privilege as well. Our birds and other wildlife depend on us to conserve and preserve their habitats for their future generations.

Last week I expressed some of my concerns about the status of the once incredible ecological diversity found in our state and mentioned a recent meeting in Blanco of organizations interested in conserving and preserving our land for future generations. Today I want to look briefly at a couple of options that we as landowners and residents can do to be better land stewards.

Birds and other animals need three elements to survive: food, water and cover (shelter). Two hundred years ago our state was covered with vast grassland prairies and savannahs. Today, many bird species dependant on grassland habitats are threatened. From a conservation point of view I believe that we have to take steps to return our land to conditions where the three ingredients of survival exist and flourish. Restoring our grasses provides the basic building block of good land stewardship for the future.

Besides being an essential part of the food chain for animals, grasses anchor the soil, allow rainwater to permeate to aquifers, restore carbon to the soils and provide cover to both plants and animals. Many years of overgrazing, conversion of grassland to farmland, and industrial and urban development have all but decimated our once thriving grasslands. Soil loss, water runoff, and the invasion of water consuming plants like juniper, have taken a toll of our Hill Country land, but hope is not lost. Restoration can be achieved as exemplified by the work done on the Bamberger Ranch Preserve near Johnson City.

Over 35 years ago J. David Bamberger began applying good land stewardship practices. Bamberger converted 5,000 acres of what he called the worst land in Blanco County into a thriving grassland which rejuvenated aquifers, stabilized the soil and provided food and cover not only to wildlife but domestic animals as well. Over a 30-year census survey on the ranch, the number of bird species has increased every year from less than 50 species to 169 species. The key is habitat restoration. What works on the Bamberger Ranch Preserve will work on any parcel of land of any size in the Hill Country.

What can we do as landowners to preserve our good native habitats? In the limited space I have, I want to introduce an option landowners might want to consider to preserve their land. Private landowners who elect to preserve the natural character of their property can work in partnership with a non-profit land trust, such as the Hill Country Land Trust, to donate a conservation easement on their property. A conservation easement is a deed restriction placed on the land to protect such resources as productive agricultural land, water, wildlife habitat, historic sites and scenic views. Over time the property may change owners, but each successive owner will be bound by the terms of the easement.

The Hill Country Land Trust's primary activity is to accept and hold conservation easements on appropriate properties, with an emphasis on land in a 14 county area of the Texas Hill Country. For more information on conservation easements, or alternative programs to protect land, please call 830-997-0027. Please remember that better habitats translate to a higher diversity of birds and all wildlife.

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