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Pines & Prairies opens Billig Ranch for outdoor film festival

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    Pines and Prairies Land Trust executive director Melanie Pavlas explains the prairie restoration projects at Billig Ranch. Photos by Julianne Hodges
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    Attendees participate in a guided hike of Billig Ranch.
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    Attendees gather at a pond at Billig Ranch for the guided reptile and amphibian hike.
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    A flowering patch of dewberry.
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    Pines and Prairies Land Trust executive director Melanie Pavlas explains the prairie restoration projects at Billig Ranch, pointing out native prairie grasses such as switchgrass and bluestem grass.
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    As the sun sets, film festival attendees wait for the show to start.

Nature and environment enthusiasts gathered under the stars at the Billig Ranch nature preserve near Paige on Saturday evening to see documentaries about the outdoors and learn more about the efforts to restore the prairie at the ranch.

On Saturday, Pines and Prairies Land Trust (PPLT) hosted the Wild & Scenic Film Festival as a drive-in film screening at their Billig Ranch preserve.

PPLT is a Bastrop-based nonprofit that works to protect open space through land conservation, stewardship and community engagement. PPLT owns and stewards 1,000 acres of land in Bastrop and Lee counties and protects another 1,500 acres through conservation easements with private landowners throughout south central Texas.

Billig Ranch is a 677-acre former ranch located north of Paige, now owned by PPLT and managed as a wildlife habitat. In 2008, Erwin Billig gifted the ranch to PPLT for them to continue his vision of sustainable agriculture and providing a haven for wildlife. PPLT has completed three prairie restoration projects on over 250 acres of the ranch.

The Wild & Scenic Film Festival, run by the South Yuba River Citizens League (SYRCL), promotes environmental activism and a love for nature through film. Wild & Scenic is traditionally a five-day film festival held in January in Nevada City and Grass Valley, California, featuring over a hundred films, workshops, programs and art exhibitions. Each year, SYRCL also takes the film festival on tour throughout the year by partnering with groups such as PPLT.

Before the film showings, attendees could participate in one of two informative hikes at Billig Ranch on Saturday evening: a guided hike looking for reptiles and amphibians, and a hike led by PPLT executive director Melanie Pavlas where she explained PPLT’s prairie restoration efforts at Billig Ranch.

The film festival consisted of a lineup of 12 features, mostly documentaries and including a couple of animated shorts, ranging in topic from bee-keeping on vacant lots in Detroit and including young children on fishing trips to a Navajo river guide’s experience on the San Juan River and a Blackfoot girl reconnecting with her culture through working with buffalo.

Two of the documentaries, and the two longest films featured this weekend, told stories set in Texas. American Ocelot examines the status of the ocelot, which within the United States can only be found in south Texas, and the various ideas and plans to help the small Texas ocelot populations. Herd Impact visits a couple who run a ranch in north Texas in a unique way, managing their thousands of cattle in a sustainable way that protects the health of their land.

Film festival attendees also had an opportunity to spend the night camping at Billig Ranch after the showing. The next morning, campers were invited to participate in a guided birding hike before the preserve was closed.