About > Case Studies
The Central Texas Conservation Partnership has created a library of case studies that illustrate effectively conserving the property you already have or enhancing your property to meet your goals. Please check back with us on a regular basis for new information.
C.L. Browning Ranch
In 2001, inspired by the work that had been done to reclaim the nearby Bamberger Ranch Preserve as a model of sound land stewardship and environmental preservation practices, the owners decided to develop a similar mission-focused use for their ranch.
Size: 977 Acres
Johnson City, TX (Blanco County)
Q: What are your primary objectives for the property, and how did you come up with your ideas/goals?
A: To restore to the natural beauty to the C.L. Browning Ranch. To preserve the ranch’s cultural history. To develop a methodology for analyzing scientific information in a manner that provides a useful base of knowledge from which to build increasingly competent ways of stewarding the land – not only in Texas, but elsewhere as well. We decided on these objectives based on an understanding of this land’s history; its physical topography; its diverse plant communities; and its point-of-origin hydrology. These are the things that define the Texas Hill Country and the Browning Ranch.
Q: What conservation practices or tools have been most beneficial and what objective did the practice help accomplish?
A: The Browning Ranch has a very long grazing history which assisted in the deterioration of the grass communities and the subsequent encroachment of Ashe juniper into the grasslands. In 2002, we stopped grazing and began the mechanical thinning of the Ashe juniper. Since much of the ranch is in slope, we left the cut juniper in place - a treatment we call the Juniper Blanket. We have found that the 'cut and let lay' method has assisted in the natural re-vegetation of these areas in three key ways: 1The cut juniper is positioned parallel to the contours. This impedes the soil erosion that is inherent in brush clearing operations. Soil accumulated up-slope from the juniper branches is quickest to re-vegetate. 2 We have observed Little bluestem grass seeds being carried by the wind that hit the juniper branches and fall to the ground. In this manner, the cut juniper is acting as a net for grass seed. 3Temperature and moisture sampling indicates that conditions are slightly cooler and more moist underneath the cut juniper. This might assist in the germination and growth of grass. We have found that the Bobcat S220 skid steer is our most important tool. This machine enables selective brush clearing while maintaining stability on slopes. Steel tracks wrapped around the tires provide additional stability and scarify the soil surface during travel - similar in degree to a herd of buffalo - which creates more area receptive to grass seed. The versatility of the skid steer cannot be over-estimated. Juniper control, shrub control, burn pile construction, road work, and materials handling are a few examples of the various ways we utilize the skid steer.
Q: What advice do you have for landowners thinking about conservation, and do you have any overall tips for being successful or avoiding mistakes?
A: We used a five-step process to begin our restoration of the Browning Ranch. 1: Observe and Assess. We did not start any major projects until our second year in to the restoration process. During this time, we researched the history of the land; we tracked the wildlife to see how they used the ranch; we monitored the hydrology to determine how much there was, it's quality, and where it was coming from and going to; we photographed the ranch from 36 permanent reference locations; we analyzed the soil; we sampled the vegetation; and we met with people who were land scientists, landscape architects, land developers, neighboring land owners, and most importantly, the people who had a history with this ranch. All of this information was documented and securely stored. 2: Build and Maintain a Network. We never officially set up an advisory board, but we do have a short list of minds that continually provide guidance to our work. They come from a variety of fields - some professional, some not - and almost any question generated by our work can be answered by this group. 3: Create and Vet a Restoration Plan. After our baseline conditions were documented and our team assembled, we then created a framework for our restoration process. This was not, and does not have to be, an involved report. Instead, this document needs only to define the objectives goal of the time. We have found that our goals and objectives are not static, and we are constantly adjusting and fine tuning our procedures. As we go, we vet our revisions with the advisors for input. This process has turned many of our good practices into incredibly successful practices. 4: Implement the Plan. 5: Monitor and Document. There are few things more valuable to a land steward than a diary left by the previous land stewards. In our current efforts to diagnose landscapes, chronicles of previous land management activities are the instruction manuals. When we look at an old agricultural field and say "Wow, that King Ranch bluestem really has taken over this old field", and then read in the NRCS notes that they seeded that field with King Ranch Bluestem in 1957, things then start to make a little more sense. Documenting the cost for land stewardship activities is also incredibly important. The valuation of ecosystem services starts with this process.