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Volunteers Restoring Texas Forests Destroyed by Fires

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    NEWSLETTERS

    AP
    This photo provided by Texas Parks and Wildlife shows a fire burning in Bastrop State Park in Bastrop, Texas. More than 1,000 homes have been destroyed in at least 57 wildfires across rain-starved Texas, most of them in one devastating blaze near Austin that is still raging out of control, officials said Tuesday. (AP Photo/Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation, Chase A. Fountain)

    Volunteers by the dozens have been helping to restore pine forests in Central Texas that were destroyed by wildfires in 2011.

    The volunteers have come from across the United States and Canada to help restore the Bastrop County forests, including in Bastrop State Park, the Austin American-Statesman reported.

    It has been a challenge. About 250,000 seedlings were planted last winter in Bastrop State Park, about 30 miles southeast of Austin. That area was in moderate-to-severe drought all winter, though, and what rain there was after the wildfires deforested the areas washed away the topsoil that had been stripped, said Mike Fisher, Bastrop County emergency management director.

    Another enemy was Texas leaf-cutting ants, which snipped the needles of the newly planted seedlings, he said.

    Only about 13 percent of the seedlings planted in the state park survived the winter, said Jamie Hackett, superintendent for Bastrop State Park. "Which sounds all doom and gloom," she told the American-Statesman, "but we don't see it like that. We learned a lot."

    The heavy rains that fell in the area this past Halloween have fueled optimism for this year's planting.

    "This year there's at least moisture in the soil, and that's a big advantage," said Dan Pacatte, reforestation coordinator with TreeFolks, an Austin-based nonprofit group.

    TreeFolks, which Bastrop County hired to replant private land, saw 41 percent of the 68,000 trees it planted last winter survive, said program manager Carly Blankenship.

    Pacatte said this winter, the group plans to plant 780,000 trees on 175 to 200 private properties.

    Meanwhile, about 400,000 trees will be planted on 650 acres along Park Road 1C to Bastrop State Park, Hackett said.

    The volunteers doing the reforestation are a source of hope for residents.

    After watching the crowd of volunteers step from two large tour buses near his house last week, Ray Long rejoiced.

    "This is a godsend, having these folks come out here and re-establish this," said Long, who already has rebuilt a house destroyed by the 2011 fires.