Urban Sprawl in the Texas Hill Country
The reason that I became a Certified Arborist more than 20 years ago was because I loved the natural landscape of Texas, and in turn I was happiest being outdoors enjoying it. I’ve been lucky enough to cover just about every inch of the Texas landscape, so I’ve seen a lot of change over the last two decades.
While driving out to see a potential client in Driftwood, TX, I was caught off guard by how much the area had changed since I had last visited. Gazing out the window I saw acres of bottomland with no trees and thick grass. As I continued my drive, I saw other areas of suburban sprawl on two to ten acres lots. Thousands of dollars had likely been poured into landscaping these properties to ensure that each yard fit the mold of the subdivision, but most of the lots lacked actual grass. Inside the subdivision, I spy one horse on two acres. He was standing in mud with nowhere to go, and no grass left to eat. At that moment I recalled someone telling me once that in Big Bend it takes 40 to 50 acres of pasture for ONE cow to graze on. So, how could a horse live on two acres of mud?
Down the street from the lonely mud-soaked horse, I pulled into the address I was headed to. Either side of the property was what you would typically find in a native Texas landscape: large multi-trunk cedars, some hardwoods and grass between them. The client is gracious, confident and proud. He has provided all that I see: new house, swimming pool, cookie cutter landscaping, two goats, 3 miniature horses and 3 big ones to come. They will come after the cedars are cleared and the grass grows.
As we walk into the back two acres amongst the grass and cedars, we talk about mulching the cedars and leaving only the live oaks (typical). My question to him was, “Is there any room for wildlife? Yes there was, he wants his children to grow up in nature.” Lovely thought.
The family has lived on the property for three months, and the horses had accompanied them not long after. This is why there was still grass: the horses hadn’t had time to eat it all yet. But in time they surely would, since sustaining themselves on two acres was virtually impossible. As we hiked around, I couldn’t get the picture of the horse in the mud out of my head.
Meanwhile, the miniature horses were sniffing some grass and passing it up for a tuft of grass two inches high, which they ate. A mental picture of Barron Rector popped into my head (A&M professor of grasses) and I could hear him saying what he always used to say, just like a Baptist preacher, “The cows know what’s best for them to eat. They pass up the stickers, and coarse tall grass (low-nutrient).” I remember thinking that I can’t even read the labels on the food I buy, and a cow KNOWS??? Apparently the horse in the mud ate all the good stuff, and trampled the not so good stuff while searching for the best.
As we spoke, I could see that this guy was a city slicker, but one with a passion for nature. We touched on the idea of Paradise Paddock and all of the intricacies that it would require (electric fencing of horse pads to various locations for feed, water, etc.). I referred him to a block of land in Elgin where we had optimized the pasture for a client with Paradise Paddock. He was excited but it was clearly information overload for this new nature lover. At the end of the discussion, he wanted a hard price so that he could make his dreams a reality. He promised he’d get back in touch once he had the money to start the project. In the meantime, mud for the horses he already had? I suggested he and his daughters do some of the work themselves to save on costs, but this was out of the question. The girls were involved in barrel racing but they carpooled to a rodeo school, as if they were headed to a soccer match.
I wonder what the settlers of Driftwood would think about this, or for that matter urban sprawl? What would they think of all of the California transplant, tech entrepreneurs moving out to the Texas Hill Country to set down more invasive roots than they ever did?
About Carl Brockman
An Austin native, Carl Brockman is passionate about preserving the natural landscape of Texas. Carl is an ISA Certified Arborist, formally trained in prescribed burn management and in wildland firefighting, educated in wildlife management, and has more than twenty years experience helping landowners realize their properties’ potential. Through Carl’s experience and vision, Natural Texas has the ability to increase the productivity of your land, as well as its value.