NORMAN — On the heels of a massive wildfire that swept across 34,000 acres in Bastrop County Texas leaving over 1.5 million trees charred, the Texas Forest Service has undertaken the daunting task of reforesting the area. Not a simple task when the unique ecosystem was home to a Loblolly pine that had adapted to survive the hot, dry conditions of Central Texas.
Once they had surveyed the damage from the fire that consumed over 1,600 homes and killed two people, Texas began looking at recovery. The Texas A&M Forest Service (TFS) and Texas Parks & Wildlife sprang into action to undertake the huge task of reforesting the charred landscape. The silver lining in the situation proved to be the fateful decision of one TFS employee to delay destroying stored seeds that would prove important in the recovery of the Lost Pines ecosystem. That is where Oklahoma Forestry Services, a division of the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, enters the partnership.
Since 1951, seed from these unique native Texas trees had been used as a part of the Western Gulf Tree Improvement Program, a genetics cooperative in which both TFS and OFS participate.
Demand for the species had dropped and, just before the wildfires hit, the remaining 1100 pounds of seed were scheduled to be destroyed. Just weeks before the September fires, Tom Byram, TFS geneticist, put it on his list to get rid of the seeds. As luck would have it, he didn’t make it to that part of his list before the wildfires began.
“After the fires, the seed was shipped to three nurseries, including our Forest Regeneration Center in Goldsby,” said George Geissler, Oklahoma State Forester. “Our staff planted the seed and delivered the first shipment of seedlings from our nursery to Bastrop on Dec. 14. The remaining seedlings are currently being harvested and a truck from the Texas Forest Service is expected to pick them up sometime in the next week.”
This is not where the story ends and much work is still to be done. The TFS website is full of pages designed to assist landowners in replanting their property with trees that will survive the tough environmental conditions. On a page titled “Get Help After the Fire” they are educating citizens about the variety of issues that loss of forest can lead to; preventing soil erosion after the fire, controlling brush after the fire, managing wildlife after the fire as well as other issues. Citizens who lived in this forest that had always been there are now part of the army rebuilding their landscape.
“We are glad our nursery was called to assist to grow the seedlings to help with the effort,” said Scott Huff, OFS Nursery Manager. “Neighbor helping neighbor.”