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November 2009 cover image bicycle riding at Big Bend Ranch State Park

From the Pen of Carter P. Smith

I first met J. David Bamberger a number of years ago at our family place over in Edwards County. We were standing at the base of a high bluff along the river bottom, where J. David was trying valiantly to convince my father that they should scale it to collect seeds from some endangered Texas snowbell plants.

Mr. Bamberger had just started a project to recover this critically imperiled Texas Hill Country plant, and to do it, he needed private landowners to work with. Someone told him that we had a few wild snowbells growing on the ranch and that my father was likely to be supportive of such an enterprise. Mr. Bamberger, whose powers of persuasion are rather well honed, convinced my father that he needed to get involved and that the first order of business was to see if they could collect some seeds from the wild plants on the ranch in order to propagate additional seedlings for future restoration plantings.

So there we found ourselves that fateful day, listening intently as J. David passionately described his recovery efforts and his plan to climb that cliff to see if the plants had produced any seeds for collection and future propagation. Mind you, the bluff under which we were standing that morning was quite steep and wholly saturated from the numerous seeps emanating from the limestone. Moreover, the plants were perched way up above, living precariously along a small ledge where no self-respecting deer or goat could reach them, much less my father and J. David, who were not exactly spring chickens anymore.

As I turned towards my mother, fully expecting her to exercise her veto power over this little escapade, off J. David went, scampering up the cliff like a little billy goat, until he proudly and triumphantly reached the snowbells. He turned around and looked down upon us all with his trademark ear-to-ear grin as if to say, “I told you I could do it.” It was abundantly clear then and there that there were very few mountains in life that J. David wasn’t prepared to climb.

In so many ways, J. David Bamberger is living proof of an old adage passed along to me by a dear family friend: “Whatever you are looking for in life is also looking for you.” Fortunately for him, and for an old, worn-out Blanco County ranch now known as “Selah,” the two found each other nearly three decades ago. The remarkable story of his love affair with that ranch is captured in the accompanying article by my colleague Tom Harvey.

Mr. Bamberger, along with his late and dear wife Margaret, was honored by TPWD and the Sand County Foundation with our 2009 statewide Leopold Conservation Award, the state’s most prestigious stewardship award for private landowners. As anyone who has gone out to Selah to observe the fruits of his labors can see, J. David loves the land and everything on it, below it, coming from it, and produced by it. Along with his highly talented and capable team at the ranch, Mr. Bamberger has transformed that corner of the Hill Country into a showplace for habitat restoration, water conservation, wildlife management, spring recharge and recovery, and outdoor education.

His efforts are an inspiration for us all. The future of wild places and wild things in Texas depends upon landowners and stewards such as J. David Bamberger. Rest assured, we need him, and others like him, more than ever.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department mission statement:
To manage and conserve the natural and cultural resources of Texas and to provide hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation opportunities for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.

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