A year after the Bastrop wildfires, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center continues to accelerate its relief efforts.
The wildfires that ravaged Bastrop County last year left wide-open pastureland where forests once stood.
Because of the fire’s intensity, the ground was burnt 10 inches deep in some places, destroying most of the bacteria, fungus, and seed in the soil. A year later, there are many areas where pine trees are not regenerating. But there’s hope.
Vlad Codrea, a molecular biology graduate student, has worked extensively with the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center over the last year to develop and maintain a tree nursery that will help replace the destroyed forests of Bastrop.
“It’s needed,” says Sean Watson, manager of growing operations for the Wildflower Center. “[Bastrop] was the largest fire in Texas history, and one of the most devastating. Where it hit, the lost pine is a very unique ecosystem. It’s kind of like a little Texas treasure.”
UT’s Green Fee Committee awarded Codrea a $54,000 grant in May 2011, and his tree nursery is now cultivating 70,000 seedlings for planting. Originally Codrea received the grant to create a student-run tree nursery at the J. J. Pickle Research Campus, but he shifted his focus to the Wildflower Center after the fires.
Because the Wildflower Center encourages the use of native plants, Watson suggested that Codrea focus on Loblolly pine trees, which are native to Bastrop. Luckily, the Texas A&M Forest Service had plenty of available seeds.
“They have 11,000 pound of seeds,” Watson says. “They’ve been storing them in a grocery store refrigerator since 1995, but they are seeds from Bastrop so they are drought-resistant.” Codrea received five donated pounds of Loblolly seed—or about 100,000 seeds—from the Forest Service just three days before the forest burned.
Those seeds went on to become the massive tree nursery now situated at the Wildflower Center. With an extensive timer-based irrigation system, a brand new greenhouse, and 15-30 volunteers to help each week, the seedlings are growing well.
“They’re doing great so far,” Codrea says. “The survival rate will depend on the weather conditions. We want a wet and cold winter.”
Once the seedlings reach a strong 6-8 inches, they will be distributed, with the help of local Austin nonprofit Tree Folks, to residents of Bastrop County.
“Good things rise from the ashes, I guess you could say,” Watson says.
Photos by Julia Bunch