Working with Nature in Wimberley and the Central Texas Hill Country - Experts Help Show the Way
Louis B. Parks

Writer Louis B. Parks shares information from experts about sustainable approaches to life in the Central Texas Hill Country.

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Lesson of the Ladybugs Brings Malcolm Beck to Eco Fest... and South Africa, and Mexico, and Canada...

Oak Wilt: Eric Beckers of the Texas Forest Service on Prevention, Management and Funding for Land-Owners Fighting the Disease

Jamie Kinscherff Brings Passion to the Task Of Land Management

By Louis B. Parks
Citizens Alliance for Responsible Development

Jamie Kinscherff is one of those fortunate folks who have turned a passion into a career. Make that passions and careers, because Kinscherff has done it twice.

In the late 1970s he turned his love of music into a lifelong passion for making award-winning guitars. Today his guitars, painstakingly hand-crafted right here in the Hill Country, are sold from Japan to New York, not to mention in Austin.

"Native grasses are adapted to our eco system and provide...habitat to our native wildlife," Kinscherff emphasizes.
Another Kinscherff passion is the Hill Country itself, its land, plants and animals. Locals who tour the amazing Canyon Lake Gorge, the unique and incredible geologic feature carved deep into the area below Canyon Lake by the fierce flood of 2002, often get Kinscherff as their tour guide. (Kids like that he knows where all the dinosaur tracks are found.)

In fact, Kinscherff is both a director on the board of the (Canyon Lake) Gorge Preservation Society, and in charge of land management for this unique and revealing slice into Texas' natural history.

He is also the owner of a business helping Hill Country land owners make sound, informed decisions how to take care of their precious piece of the best country in Texas.

"I give them not just touchy feely things about how to go home and hug their trees, but specifics they can do - whether they are a large or small land owner - to preserve a healthy ecosystem. Or restore one that's at risk. Always keeping in mind our wildlife. Specific things they can do to encourage species diversity among our flora and fauna."

Anyone who meets this wiry, intense man in a natural setting, whether at Canyon Gorge or conducting a site visit for the Texas Agrilife Extension service or working with a Master Naturalist group, quickly discovers his dedication to and deep knowledge of our local environment. So Kinscherff and business partner Karen Archer were a natural choice when Citizens Alliance for Responsible Development (CARD) was putting together the speaker panel for Wimberley Eco Fest.

As expected, Kinscherff was immediately excited about having a forum to offer land management advice to local land owners. Not only to inform them, but perhaps give them a little healthy worry.

"I may be scaring the tar out of some people," he said with a grin, "when I show them the numbers about land fragmentation and how land use has changed in Texas."

Not that Kinscherff is into being negative. He just feels it's essential that everyone understands how important it is for small property owners to know the consequences of whatever they do - or fail to do - not just for the good of their own land, but for everyone.

"Since most of Texas is owned by private land owners, about 250,000 people are making decisions that affect the land we are standing on," he says. "They need to start working together. As the land gets more and more fragmented, even small acreage land owners need to start paying attention to water resources and wildlife, nurturing and preserving what we have, and restoring what we've messed up in the past."

His plan is for every Hill Country owner to have a plan.

"Before you make that plan, you have to do an assessment of your resources - soil resources, plant resources and water resources. They ask us to tell them what species of grasses, woody plants and trees they have on their property and based on that they can make a management plan based on those resources.

"If they have (for example) invasive species on their property, they can target them and make a plan to get rid of or mitigate them. One of the main things people call us about is cedar management. A lot of people are really confused about how to deal with it and how much they should leave on their property. Some people think that every bit of it needs to go.

"What we do is help them come up with a plan - whether they have five acres or 500 acres, to do the right thing about that cedar population, keeping in mind erosion control and that sort of thing."

Their goal is to achieve a sustainable plant community that requires a whole lot less effort from the owner.

"If they can get their property back to a climax community (a steady state adapted for its ecological area), that is the most sustainable plant community. It will require less fertilizer, it won't require any extra water except what nature provides and quite frankly they will put less of their time into it because it will sustain itself."

Every now and then, Kinscherff and Archer run into someone who comes into the Hill Country determined to make their recently bought property something more suitable to a city than to the dry, rugged Hill Country environment.

"If someone wants us to restore their land to native grasses, we are glad to do that. Native grasses are adapted to our eco system and provide really good habitat to our native wildlife. They are really healthy grazing for livestock, as long as they are well managed.

"If they want a city turf grass, such as St. Augustine, we'll say thanks, but no thanks. If you put in a lot of invasive species, such as tallow trees or KR Bluestem, their roots may hold the soil in place but provide very little value to our native wildlife species. When you get too much of that, you put your wildlife at risk.

"After the 1940s, when suburbia happened, the landscape industry talked us into these lawns around our houses. At that time, water resources were not an issue. The planet had one-third the population. Now, with 24 million people in Texas, we have to start paying attention to our water resources."

Fortunately, Kinscherff finds that most land owners, once they understand how everything they do on their property affects its well-being, not to mention their investment, are eager to learn and do the what's best.

"Land stewardship is a mindset that evolves into action," he says. "You work with your land to achieve your goals, but in a way that is not to the detriment of the land."

(Kinscherff and Archer were among many local and state experts heading free 45-minute sessions at Wimberley Eco Fest 2009. The day of entertainment and ideas was sponsored by CARD, the Citizens Alliance for Responsible Development, a not-for-profit Wimberley area organization of volunteers. CARD has been active in trying to preserve the natural beauty that makes our area so appealing and desirable.)