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Texas A&M Forest Service

LBJ Wildflower Center helping to restore pine trees to Texas

Very cool.

The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center of The University of Texas at Austin has been selected by the Texas A&M Forest Service (TFS) to serve as the local grower of loblolly pines to restore wildfire-damaged Bastrop County.

The 2011 Bastrop County Complex fire destroyed 1,691 homes while burning 33,000 acres that gave the area its picturesque landscape. Already, the Wildflower Center has worked with a university graduate student to provide 35,000 loblolly pines that are being given this winter to county residents. The center will now expand its growing operation as one of three contractors with TFS to produce up to 6 million trees total by 2017 for the Lost Pines region.

“The Wildflower Center is conveniently located for project partners to access the pines we grow before a planting event,” said the center’s Senior Director, Damon Waitt. “We can also serve as a holding area for trees grown by the facilities that aren’t near Bastrop County.”


The tree growers will use seeds the TFS collected from Lost Pines loblollies years ago, with future TFS contracts expected to continue the program through 2017. “The Lost Pines is such a unique area ecologically, and the trees there are more drought-tolerant than loblolly pines in East Texas, so we are thrilled to have this seed source to work with,” said Dr. Waitt, who is also the center’s senior botanist.

Sure is a good thing they saved those seeds, isn’t it?

Save those seeds

What would have been worse than the drought and the wildfires in Central Texas that wiped out millions of trees? Not having the wherewithal to properly reforest afterward. Thankfully, that didn’t happen, but it was a closer call than you’d have thought.

Loblolly pine trees

The Texas A&M Forest Service was making plans to dump more than a half-ton of loblolly pine seeds into a landfill when the most destructive wildfire in state history began its deadly march through the Lost Pines in Bastrop County last year.

Now the seeds will be used in a massive, multiyear effort to restore the fabled forest, the westernmost stand of loblolly pines in the United States. The fire burned so hot that it claimed not only 50 square miles of pines but also their seeds, making it impossible for the trees to return without help.

To restore the Lost Pines, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and state forest service intend to plant more than 4 million trees on public and private land during the next five years. The Arbor Day Foundation is trying to raise $4 million, or $1 per tree, for the recovery effort.

The first seedlings, which come from the same genetic stock as the tall pines that carpeted the area before the fire, will arrive Tuesday at Bastrop State Park, about 35 miles east of Austin. Planting is scheduled to begin Saturday.

“If you are going to be successful in restoring the forest, you need the right seed source,” said Tom Byram, a geneticist with the Texas A&M Forest Service.

Here’s some background from the A&M Forest Service. Apparently, Byram had a large supply of such seeds sitting in a warehouse freezer for five years, where they sat while the forest service tried to find buyers for them. Loblollies aren’t in great demand because they grow slowly, and Byram was beginning to feel guilty about them taking up space. Good thing he didn’t act too quickly on that. See here for more on the Arbor Day Foundation, and go here if you want to make a donation or volunteer your time to help.

Three hundred million trees

That’s the latest estimate of the toll from last year’s drought.

The numbers are ugly. A whopping 301 million trees have died across state forestlands as a result of the 2011 drought, the Texas A&M Forest Service reported Tuesday.

The latest count was determined after a three-month, on-the-ground study of hundreds of forested plots, as well as satellite imagery from before and after the drought. It includes trees killed directly by the drought and those so weakened that they succumbed to insects and disease.

The Brazos Valley region took the heaviest hit, losing nearly 10 percent of its trees on forested land. North Texas and western northeast Texas lost 8.3 percent and 8.2 percent, respectively.

Harris County is included in the 6.5 percent loss in the western section of southeast Texas. That’s nearly 19 million fewer trees than the near 290 million live tree count before the drought. Far east stretches of southeast Texas got better news: a 1.3 percent loss, down 7.5 million trees from pre-drought 597.1 million live trees.

The full report, with a chart of the losses in each region, is here. The good news, if you can call it that, is that previous estimates of tree loss in Texas had ranged as high as 500 million. The bad news is that parts of the state, most notably in South Texas and the Panhandle, remain in exceptional or extreme drought. This estimate also doesn’t include the five million trees lost in the cities to the drought. Let’s hope it’s a long time before we have another year like 2011.