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It’s not easy being green

I have mixed feelings about this.

The “Blue Trees” artist has stirred up a hive of trouble for Houston’s parks and recreation department, complaining that the city plagiarized an installation he created five years ago by re-painting the same grove of crepe myrtles. This time, the trees are a vivid green.

Konstantin Dimopolous, who engaged dozens of volunteers to help make “Blue Trees Houston” in 2013, said the harmless paint formula he shared was developed over many years and is his intellectual property.

Parks department officials beg to differ, pointing out that trees have been painted for centuries, across cultures.

“We thought we did our homework,” said Abel Gonzales, the parks department’s deputy director of greenspace management. He said he cleared the green paint project last October with parks department planners who told him there were no other active agreements for art among the crepe myrtle groves within the traffic cloverleafs at Waugh Drive and Allen Parkway.

He chose the same area Dimopolous had used because it’s a high-profile location, he said, and also because crepe myrtles have smooth trunks that make them easier to paint than, say, oak trees.

[…]

Dimopolous said he was not after money or a lawsuit, but he did want an apology — and he wants the green paint removed, because people think the new work is his.

“It looks horrible, and it really has no relevance anymore here,” said Dimopolous, who is in Houston working on a large commercial commission. He is building “Windgrass,” a tall, stick-like kinetic sculpture for Bridgeland, next to entrance signage for the 11,400-acre, master-planned community along the Grand Parkway near Cypress.

Gonzales and others in the parks department aren’t likely to concede that they’ve done anything wrong. “We’re sorry he’s upset, but no one even thought about him,” Gonzales said.

One of the Parks people, who wasn’t in Houston when Dimopoulos did his installation in 2013, said she came up with the paint for this work on her own via trial and error. On the one hand, I agree that painting trees isn’t a new or unique idea, and the fact that an artist once did this doesn’t preclude anyone else from ever doing it. On the other hand, it would have been nice to give the guy a heads-up, especially since it’s the same location and he’s back in town on another project. Beyond that, I say I was glad to see the new painted trees when I first spotted them a few weeks ago, and I hope to see more art like this elsewhere in the city. Glasstire and It’s Not Hou It’s Me have more.

House takes a different direction on trees

Better than the Senate version, for sure.

The Texas House added a potential wrinkle to Gov. Greg Abbott’s special session agenda on Thursday, giving early approval to a bill that would allow property owners to plant new trees to offset municipal fees for tree removal on their land.

The initial 132-11 vote on House Bill 7, a compromise between builder groups and conservationists, is a replica of legislation from this spring’s regular legislative session that Abbott ultimately vetoed, saying the bill did not go far enough. His preference: barring cities altogether from regulating what residential homeowners do with trees on their property.

[…]

State Rep. Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont and the author of HB 7, said the bill was the result of months of negotiations between developers, conservationists and city officials. He said his bill and laws that go further to undercut local tree ordinances could coexist.

“This isn’t a Republican or Democrat bill, this isn’t a liberal or conservative bill, this is where people choose to live,” Phelan said at a Tuesday committee hearing. “They know it’s there when they decide to live there.”

See here and here for some background. I can’t see the Senate accepting this bill in place of the one it passed, a House version of which is in the House Urban Affairs Committee, whose Chair, Rep. Carol Alvarado, says there’s no need for it now that HB7 has been passed. The remaining options are a conference committee, in which we get to see which chamber caves to the other, and letting the matter drop. Good luck with that, Dan Patrick.

By the way, if you want to get a feel for how ridiculous that Senate bill and the whole idea of a glorious fight against socialistic tree ordinances are, here’s a little story to illustrate:

On Wednesday, during floor debate over SB 14, [bill author Sen. Bob] Hall answered a Democratic senator’s half-serious question about why he hated trees by saying, “I love trees … I also love liberty.” Hall has lived in Texas less than a decade and is perhaps best remembered as the guy who claimed that “Satan” had a “stranglehold” on his GOP opponent, former Senator Bob Deuell. In Hall’s statement of intent on SB 14, he played constitutional scholar, claiming that “private property rights are foundational to all other rights of a free people” and that “ownership gives an individual the right to enjoy and develop the property as they see fit.” Therefore, placing any restrictions on when a property owner can prune or remove a tree “thwarts the right to the use of the property.”

This absolutist formulation, which in casual speech is reduced to “I luv liberty,” would seem to disallow virtually any restrictions on what property owners can do to their property. What exception is possibly allowed here?

Well, plenty, if you’re a Republican who has very special trees in her district that must be protected from personal liberty. It was a minor moment on the floor on Wednesday, but it was a telling one: Senator Lois Kolkhorst, she of bathroom bill fame, got assurance from Hall that his bill wouldn’t touch Section 240.909 of the Texas Local Government Code, a statute that “applies only to a county with a population of 50,000 or less that borders the Gulf of Mexico and in which is located at least one state park and one national wildlife refuge.” That’s Lege-speak for Aransas County, whose beautiful and iconic windswept oak trees you may have seen if you’ve ever vacationed in Rockport.

In 2009, Representative Geanie Morrison and Kolkhorst’s predecessor, Glenn Hegar, passed a bill allowing the Aransas County Commissioners Court to “prohibit or restrict the clear-cutting of live oak trees in the unincorporated area of the county.” It seems some unscrupulous people were clear-cutting the oak trees, upsetting the locals, diminishing property values and harming the tourist economy. Something had to be done: Personal liberties were chainsawing the shared values of the community.

Hall assured Kolkhorst that his bill wouldn’t touch Aransas County, an apparent exception to Liberty’s purchase on the other 253 counties in the state that he didn’t bother to explain. But when Senator Jose Menendez, a San Antonio Democrat, asked if an exception could be made for San Antonio’s ordinance, which he said helps keep the air clean, Hall balked.

And thus, the important Constitutional principle of “my trees are better than yours” is upheld. God bless Texas, y’all.

There is trouble with the trees

More to the point, there is trouble with the idea that municipal tree ordinances are somehow a bad thing, but that’s where we are, and it’s got some folks worried.

Never turn down an opportunity to reference a Rush song

More than 40,000 trees were lost to [Hurricane] Ike, according to the nonprofit Galveston Island Tree Conservancy. A replanting campaign that began in 2010 has made significant progress: Volunteers have spent more than 17,000 hours planting more than 16,000 trees, including 250 live oaks and 60 palm trees on Broadway.

Now this effort faces a new threat – not from nature, but from politicians in the state Capitol. Gov. Greg Abbott wants the Legislature to strip cities of the authority to regulate – and essentially protect – trees on private property. It’s one of 21 items the Republican governor has placed on the agenda for a special session that begins July 18.

This action would weaken tree-protection ordinances in more than 50 Texas cities.

Local leaders across the state oppose the idea, but the issue has particular resonance in Galveston because of Ike’s devastating effect on its tree canopy.

In the storm’s aftermath, trees became precious jewels. Homeowners agonized for months, hoping in vain that their treasured oak or magnolia would somehow recover, before accepting the inevitable. Every dead tree that was felled and hauled away left the island a little barer, its people a little more sorrowful.

“Everyone was just so devastated by the loss,” said Jackie Cole, president of the nonprofit Galveston Island Tree Conservancy.

To bolster the recovery effort, the City Council passed a tree-protection ordinance in 2015. The measure requires property owners to seek a permit before removing trees considered significant based on their size or other factors. Trees that are unhealthy, that pose a hazard or that meet certain other criteria may be removed without penalty; others may be cut down only if the owner replaces them with trees of a specified size or pays into a local tree fund.

See here for some background. I would point out that for all of Abbott’s tree-hatred, his little vendetta will still require the consent of the Legislature. I hope the people of Galveston have been directing their concerns to Sen. Larry Taylor and Reps. Wayne Faircloth and Greg Bonnen. If local control still means anything, it needs to mean something to them.

By the way, story author Mike Snyder has a sidebar piece about the effort to defend local tree ordinances, which is being led by Defend Texas Trees. Turns out that most of the municipal tree ordinances in the state aren’t about what homeowners can and cannot do but about what developers can and cannot do, with restrictions and incentives in place to preserve mature trees. In other words, Abbott’s intended ordinance isn’t just an attack on trees, it’s a boon for developers. I know, I’m as shocked as you are.

Greg Abbott’s war on trees

This is just bizarre.

One of the 20 items Gov. Greg Abbott has asked lawmakers to consider during the upcoming special session, which will begin July 18, is outlawing local tree regulations. More than 50 cities and towns in Texas have ordinances aimed at protecting trees; many of the local rules require property owners to either pay a fee for removing trees or replant trees after they cut some down. Municipalities often design them to prevent the type of branch slashing Beatty said occurred on the property near her Dallas home.

But Abbott — joined by a number of Republican lawmakers and the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank — are calling for the end of those local protections. They argue that the tree ordinances are an unconstitutional violation of private property rights, and Abbott, who grappled with Austin tree regulations as a homeowner, calls the rules a “socialistic” infringement on a landowner’s freedom.

“I feel like those who own their trees have the right to do with their trees what they want,” said state Sen. Konni Burton, R-Colleyville.

[…]

Keith Mars, who enforces Austin’s tree regulations as the city arborist, said trees are an important reason why Austin is a growing destination known for its quality of life. He points to the environmental and economic benefits of trees.

“We know about the quality that this urban canopy provides for our citizens and why so many people are moving here from all over the country,” he said. “There will be a real economic impact to the vitality of Austin and other cities.”

To Robert Henneke, the general counsel at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, though, the tree regulations hamper economic growth in Texas cities.

“The compliance cost of these tree regulation ordinances is harmful because it drives up the cost of housing,” Henneke said. Henneke said the foundation worked with lawmakers who filed bills on the topic during the regular session.

Those efforts will run up against the Texas Municipal League, an organization that advocates for Texas cities and towns in the Legislature. Bennett Sandlin, the group’s executive director, said the organization plans to resist bills that nullify local tree regulations. He says municipalities have the constitutional power to protect trees.

“If you take that argument to the extreme — that you can do anything you want on your property in an urban area —then you wouldn’t have zoning,” Sandlin said. “You could have a strip club next to a home or you could have a liquor store next to a school.”

See here for the roots (sorry not sorry) of Abbott’s tree tirade. I find this just so petty and vindictive. I mean, maybe Austin’s tree removal ordinances and processes are byzantine and life-sucking – it happens, I have no idea. A normal person might view that as a city problem, since it was the city that put in these requirements, presumably for some justifiable reasons. One could complain to one’s Council member or the Mayor, one could form an organization devoted to reforming or repealing these rules, one could run for city office on a tree-regulation-reform platform – there are many options. To decide that all tree-related regulations in all cities are uniformly terrible and must be destroyed is some kind of special snowflaking right there. Also, some people refer to “driving up the cost of housing” as “enhancing property values”. Maybe talk to a realtor? I don’t know. I mean, I don’t know how Texas ever got to be such a wonderful place when so much of it is clearly a dystopian hellhole. Thank God we have Greg Abbott and his million-dollar donors to set us straight.

Like a bridge over Memorial Park

Some fascinating ideas for ensuring the long-term health of Memorial Park.

Today Memorial Park is a land divided.

The city’s premiere park stretches across 1,500 acres, almost twice as large as New York’s Central Park. But to Thomas Woltz of the internationally renowned landscape architecture firm Nelson Byrd Woltz, it feels much smaller. Over time the land has been divided into 24 tracts by roads, an elevated railroad, a power easement and recreational amenities.

That could change during the next 20 years if a long-range master plan being proposed by Woltz’s firm is adopted next spring by the Houston City Council. Hired in 2013 by the Houston Parks and Recreation Department, the Uptown Houston tax increment reinvestment zone and the privately funded Memorial Park Conservancy, the firm is nearly three months into a 10-month design process.

At a public meeting Wednesday, Woltz presented his firm’s initial design strategies and the reasoning behind them – ideas driven by previous public input and a year’s research by a team of about 70 local experts in fields like soil science, ecology, history and archaeology.

He shared maps, drawings and aerial views to explain the park’s ecological and cultural histories, also unveiling a dramatic solution to one of the landscape’s biggest problems. He’s proposing a grass- and tree-covered land bridge, 800 feet long, that would rise gently across Memorial Drive, over a tunnel, to reconnect the park’s north and south sides.

While it’s not realistic to remove the street, which is crucial to Houston’s traffic circulation, the land bridge is “a kind of triumph … the park wins,” Woltz said.

The current pedestrian bridge on the park’s western side, completed in 2009, was an important first gesture toward stitching the park’s landscape back together, Woltz said. “This land bridge builds on that beginning at a much larger scale.”

[…]

Project director Sarah Newbery of Uptown Houston said the Uptown Houston TIRZ is committed to spending $100 million to $150 million on the restoration projects and infrastructure; a figure that could change with property values. Memorial Park Conservancy executive director Shellye Arnold said her group is studying how much it can raise in the next 10 or 20 years toward the effort.

“But we think of this in terms of a 100-year or 75-year plan. We’ll execute large parts of it in the next three to 15 years; but there can be a road map for the next generation as well.”

Woltz expects to reveal designs that incorporate Camp Logan remnants at the next public meeting on Nov. 10.

“We’re looking for ways the landscape could function as a memorial to the soldiers and maybe even reveal some of the grid,” he said.

A Jan. 12 meeting is titled “Spaces and Places: How Will It Look?” The final March 9 meeting promises a more comprehensive revealing of the plan.

See here, here, and here for some background. The TIRZ in question is also the one helping to fund the Uptown BRT line. Some more material from the architect is here. What do you think about this? Link via Swamplot.

Less drought

Good news.

Drought map as of Dec 3

Drought map as of Dec 3

After near-normal rainfall during the spring and summer, this fall a number of drought-ending storm systems began to sweep across Texas, particularly the eastern half of the state.

“Drought conditions have ended in most of East and Southeast Texas,” said John Nielsen-Gammon, the state climatologist and a professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M University. “It’s been a recovery for the part of the state along and east of I-35. The western half of the state is still for the most part mired in drought.”

Texas was last this free of drought at the end of November 2010. After that time, the state began feeling the effects of the great drought of 2011, which peaked in early October 2011. At the time 99 percent of the state was in a “severe” or worse drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Today, about 20 percent of Texas is in a “severe” or worse drought, and 47 percent is in at least a “moderate” drought.

Houston has been drought-free since late October. The region has seen a substantial recovery in most areas, including, recently, lake levels. Lake Conroe, for example, is up to 199.5 feet, just below its full pool of 201 feet. The lake was last this high in late 2010.

“The primary lingering effects of the drought are dead trees and damaged pastures,” Nielsen-Gammon said.

You can see the difference in the drought map. I hope we keep getting enough rain to make that map even less colorful. The news isn’t all good. Lake Travis is still in bad shape, and as we know plenty of cities in West Texas and the Panhandle are facing severe long-term problems. And even if we get enough water going forward to completely alleviate the current situation, nothing can be done about all of the trees that were lost. But we’re in a much better place now than we were two years ago, and for that we are thankful.

Looking forward on Memorial Park

Meet Shellye Arnold, the new Executive Director of the Memorial Park Conservancy.

Shellye Arnold

There is no doubt that it is a pivotal moment for the 89-year old-park. Decimated by the drought of 2011, Memorial Park lost thousands of trees. The conservancy – whose stated mission is to “restore, preserve and enhance Memorial Park for the enjoyment of all Houstonians, today and tomorrow” – has a lot of work to do.

Arnold brings an exceptional skill set to the task. Her expertise in strategic planning, team building and leadership was honed over a 20-year career at Cisco Systems, Hewlett-Packard, Compaq Computer Corporation and the management consulting firm, McKinsey & Company.

Previous to accepting the position with the conservancy, Arnold volunteered her time as both a writer and a speaker for the Parks by You Parks Bond Initiative, which passed in November 2012, providing $166 million in parks funding.

Jim Porter, board chair of the Memorial Park Conservancy and a certified Texas naturalist, feels confident that they have the right person for the job.

“Shellye has a history of getting things done and delivering results,” he said.

[…]

She notes that it was human intervention that uniformly forested Memorial Park with pine trees so heavily to begin with and that even before the drought, many of the park’s trees were already approaching their life expectancy.

About 15,000 new trees have been planted thus far. But there is also a need to restore and enhance the natural balance of the park on a larger scale. As Arnold notes, “you can’t water a forest.”

The diversity of Memorial Park with its three distinct eco-systems – East Texas Piney Woods, Post Oak Savanna and Coastal Prairie – will help sustain it. Clearing out non-invasive plants, which compete for water and sunlight, and planting native grasses are some of the items which could help with the restoration.

[…]

Arnold is supportive of the TIRZ proposal, in part because Mayor Parker is clear that Memorial Park will not be commercialized. It will remain a park, which is in line with the Hogg family stipulations when they made the land available to the city of Houston.

She sees potential down the road for linking the park to Uptown for cyclists. There has also been feedback about connecting Memorial Park to Buffalo Bayou, thereby giving people more access to the 150 mile trail system that is being completed through the Parks Bond Initiative.

Making those connections would be awesome, and very useful. Wouldn’t it be nice to have ways to get to Memorial Park that don’t involve driving? Throw in the Uptown BRT line and hopefully someday the University Line, and you’ve greatly expanded the bike-to-the-park range. That’s down the line, to be sure, but this is a long-term project. KUHF has more on what is being considered for the park.

Shellye Arnold is executive director of the Memorial Park Conservancy, a group that works with the Houston Parks Department to fundraise for the park. Driving west on Woodway, she pulls over to a spot where the park meets Buffalo Bayou and points out an area where TIRZ 16 money is already allocated for an erosion project.

“We’re looking at a big pipe that carries water down into the bayou. And what happens with the water is that it causes erosion, it causes the land around it to erode into the bayou itself. And over time, it eats and eats away at the bayou, so what we’re looking at is probably hundreds of feet of erosion from the banks of the bayou that has been caused over years of time.”

As for what else the money might do, nobody knows for sure because the master plan hasn’t been developed yet. As Arnold points out, there’s only a plan to make a plan.

“There are things that people have expressed that they’d like to do. There are many people that would like to put a prairie on the utility easement area. That’s a great example. Those are things that could be considered in the context of a master planning process, which will take, you know, will take some time.”

Council will vote on the TIRZ next week, on Wednesday. We don’t need to have a master plan by then, but some kind of vision or outline would be nice.

Questions about the Memorial Park part of the Uptown/Memorial TIRZ

Lisa Falkenberg reports that some people have raised questions about the Memorial Park part of the Uptown/Memorial TIRZ.

Reforestation is sorely needed in a park devastated by hurricane damage and drought. This is a great deal, city leaders and supporters say, a great way to restore our crown jewel to its former beauty. And we should all trust the Memorial Park Conservancy – a private body whose members aren’t elected and which acts as both fundraiser and watchdog for the park – to make it happen.

But some meddlesome environmentalists aren’t so trusting. This week, they walked into City Hall and demanded the public have a say, a real say, in the deal. They asked for details beyond a press release. They asked for more than a couple of weeks to sort it out and read the small print.

When they were assured by Mayor Annise Parker and some City Council members that the city would have to sign off on any decisions, the environmentalists continued to argue that the public should be involved from the get-go. Not after the fact. Not left holding a rubber stamp.

After all, it’s a public park, a very special one with a rare wildness that offers a unique escape in a city as large as Houston. It belongs to all of us, they say. It is not for sale.

[…]

There are details in a “Letter of Intent” on the project that didn’t make it into the press release. The letter outlining details of the plan states that the Conservancy would be responsible for major decisions including design, bidding, and managing construction projects in the master plan. The city would later have to approve those decisions, but it’s unclear if that leaves enough time for a thorough public vetting.

A troubling section of the letter called “Coordination of Public Relations” points out that the conservancy isn’t subject to public information requests. And the agreement would require all parties – even the public ones that are subject to information requests – to coordinate through private parties before disclosing any information to the public.

When I asked Joe Turner, Houston’s parks director, about that provision, he said it had been awhile since he’d read the letter. He said he’d read it and get back with me if he had anything to add. He didn’t call back.

“The public is a missing piece of this organization. It’s political appointees, private nonprofits and a TIRZ. Where’s the public?” Evelyn Merz, with the Sierra Club, told me. Merz said she’s “appalled” by the plan, but not because she doubts the motives of conservancy members.

“I know they care about the park. That’s not the issue. Are they the same as the public? I would say they aren’t,” she told me.

My first thought upon reading this was to wonder what kind of public input on the management of Memorial Park exists now. If the TIRZ were to go away, I presume the Conservancy would still be responsible for major decisions concerning the park and any attempt to reforest it via grants and private donations, just as it has always been. If the public has been involved in that in any substantive way, I couldn’t tell you what it is.

The difference here is the addition of public funds via the TIRZ. Public money requires public accountability, so it is perfectly reasonable to demand that. Unfortunately, just as there’s no mention of what public involvement currently exists for Memorial Park governance, there is no mention of what type of new or further involvement would make the Mayor’s proposal acceptable. Falkenberg notes that Council would have to approve any decisions made by the Conservancy, but what is being asked for is involvement in the process, before the signoff. I think that’s a fine idea, I’d just like to know what that involvement might look like.

I sent an email to Ms. Merz to ask her what she would like to see done to involve the public more directly, but I didn’t get a response. It’s not unreasonable to me for the Mayor to suggest that Council signoff on any proposal gives the public a voice in the process, but it’s also not unreasonable for Ms. Merz to suggest that the public should have its say earlier in the process, while the ideas are still being debated and proposed. I suppose the ordinance that creates the TIRZ could put some requirements on how the Conservancy operates – open meetings, outreach via social and traditional media for feedback, etc. Again, it’s not clear to me what the specific concerns are. I wish Falkenberg had considered that question. Maybe she felt she didn’t have the space for it in her column, but she does have a Facebook page for her column as well as a long-dormant blog, so she did have avenues to explore it that wouldn’t have cost her space in the news hole. Maybe she’ll write a followup, I don’t know. Campos has more.

UPDATE: Here’s an FAQ about the TIRZ proposal that Campos forwarded to me. Note the following:

How will transparency in the development of the Master Plan be ensured?

The process for creating the Memorial Park Master Plan will follow the same pattern that the Buffalo Bayou Master Plan was developed under. Public meetings will be held during the draft stages; drafts will be circulated for public comment and prior to any finalization of the Master Plan by the consultants selected a public meeting will be held. After that the Master Plan will be brought to the City’s Quality of Life Committee for review and then to City Council for final consideration.

Seems pretty reasonable to me. What do you think, Lisa?

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.

Rodeo kicks in for tree replanting

Trail riders coming into Houston for the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo traditionally camp overnight in Memorial Park on their way to the event. Last year they did this as many of the trees around them were dying from the drought. This year, the HSLR is giving back to help with that problem.

On Monday, [HSLR board chairman Steve] Stevens presented a $250,000 check from the rodeo to Mayor Annise Parker and Memorial Park Conservancy board chairman Jim Porter to help reforest the beloved park.

“For more than 50 years, thousands of trail riders have gathered in the park, so I thought this was a nice way to pay back,” Stevens said. “We’ve got to get it going again. The city and county are great to us. … This was the easiest thing we’ve approved this year.”

The donation is for reforestation, which will include planting thousands of trees in the park, said the conservancy’s Claire Caudill. However, before any major planting takes place, the conservancy and Houston Parks and Recreation must remove about 20,000 dead trees and create conditions that will ensure greater seedling success.

Nice. Other work that needs to be done prior to any planting includes getting rid of the various invasive species that have taken up residence in the park. The conservancy expects trees to be put in the ground beginning next November. Let’s hope the current dry conditions don’t make things worse between now and then.

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.

A dollar a tree

Replacing the trees lost in the Bastrop fires last summer is going to cost some money, but there’s now a foundation working on raising that money.

Flanked by containers bristling with pine tree seedlings, state and local officials on Tuesday announced a campaign to pay for an ambitious five-year plan to restore the Lost Pines after last year’s fires.

The Arbor Day Foundation has agreed to lead the fundraising effort and needs to raise about $4 million — or one dollar for every pine tree to be planted over the next five years.

The foundation said it has already received more than $600,000 in commitments from companies such as FedEx, Mary Kay and Nokia.

[…]

Nearly a year ago, the Labor Day fires burned more than 32,000 acres in Bastrop County and destroyed more than 1,700 homes and other structures, making it the most destructive fire in Texas history.

A hastily formed group of county, state and federal officials, dubbed the Lost Pines Recovery Team, immediately began working on a plan to restore the burned forest, but they hadn’t made much of a dent in raising the $17 million they had determined was needed for tree planting, erosion control, reseeding native grasses and clearing dead brush and other fuels.

The public-private partnership announced Tuesday puts the Arbor Day Foundation in charge of raising money, while the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and Texas A&M Forest Service will handle planning, volunteers, tree selection and planting. Texas A&M University has pledged to send students to help plant this winter, Chancellor John Sharp said.

Go here to learn more about the Arbor Day Foundation, and go here to make a donation or volunteer your time to this effort. I wish them the best of luck with this project. The Arbor Day Foundation blog has more.

It was more than drought that killed the trees

So say the experts.

Don’t blame the drought for killing an estimated 506 million trees in Texas. At least, don’t blame it exclusively.

The drought is only part of the story of why trees are dying, according to a new report by the AgriLife Extension Service at Texas A&M University.

In most cases, the report says, the trees that died in 2011 were already stressed from pre-existing factors such as overcrowding, growing on the wrong site, age, soil compaction, trenching or inappropriate use of herbicides.

“If not for these factors, a large proportion of the trees that died might have recovered from the drought,” according to the report by Dr. Eric Taylor, a forestry specialist with the extension service.

The 2011 drought “severely weakened mature trees, making them susceptible to opportunistic pathogens like hypoxylon canker and insects like pine bark engraver beetles,” Taylor said in the report.

The report helps explain to the public what experts see, said Jim Houser, a forest health coordinator with the Texas Forest Service.

“That’s true, we tend to simplistically (blame) the drought,” Houser said. “In actuality, it’s a variety of problems that tend to combine together to kill trees. Certainly, the drought is the main problem.”

You can read the report here. The point they’re making is that if the overall health of our trees had been better to begin with, we’d have lost fewer of them during the drought. The trees that did survive are likely to be weaker than before, so their health will need to be safeguarded as well.

Houser said Central Texans can still save their trees if they water.

“It’s very easy to say, ‘It doesn’t matter if my grass dies; I can replant,’ ” Houser said. Trees are another matter.

“They shouldn’t abandon their trees,” he said.

A good way to water your tree is to take one of those big plastic paint buckets, poke a hole or two near the bottom, put it next to your tree, and fill it with water from your garden hose. The bucket holds enough water for a good drink, and the holes allow the water to be released slowly enough to really soak in. That’s what we (and by “we” I mean “Tiffany”) did for our trees last year, anyway. Hope this helps.

Re-Plant Houston

Memorial Park is about to get some needed attention.

As last year’s drought killed thousands of trees in Memorial Park, caretakers realized it was time to speed the pace of a long-planned reforestation.

On Friday, Mayor Annise Parker announced that removal of invasive species and dead trees from the 1,500-acre park’s forested areas is scheduled to begin Monday. The work is preparation for planting about $1 million worth of seedlings in the fall, she said at a news conference in the park’s picnic area.

[…]

Nancy Sullivan, executive director of the nonprofit Memorial Park Conservancy, said it was fortunate that a plan to rejuvenate the forest was written before the drought took its toll.

Completed in 2010, the plan originally called for replanting to take a decade. Now, the time frame will be shortened to a couple of years, she said.

“We’re going to turn this into an opportunity,” Sullivan said. “We’re going to create the best, the healthiest, the most vibrant (forest possible). We’re going to have a regenerating forest that will never experience this again.”

The press release on this is here. To be a part of the RE-Plant Houston and RE-Plant Memorial Park effort, visit the following websites:

To RE-Plant Memorial Park visit the Memorial Park Conservancy
To RE-Plant the Memorial Park Golf Course visit the Houston Parks Board
To RE-Plant MacGregor Park and Mason Park visit Trees for Houston
To RE-Plant Hermann Park visit the Hermann Park Conservancy

More than five million trees lost in the cities

More depressing numbers from the drought.

Aerial view of Memorial Park

It was a sight more common than usual this past summer: a tree too thirsty to live became another casualty to the drought. City workers would either remove the tree, or, if they were too late, it would fall, possibly on power lines, cars or a house.

On Wednesday, Texas Forest Service researchers said the current drought claimed the lives of about 5.6 million trees in cities, or roughly 10 percent of the state’s urban forests, in the agency’s first attempt at counting urban tree loss.

Those trees will cost at least $560 million to remove and provided about $280 million annually in environmental and economic benefits, a study released Wednesday said.

[…]

The death toll is likely to continue to tick upward as already-dead trees become more obvious when they don’t grow leaves in the spring and more trees die from diseases, said the study’s leader, Pete Smith.

“The damage is widespread, but it varies widely from really heavy amounts of loss to not really heavy amounts of loss,” Smith said.

The state’s urban areas, including large metropolitan areas like Houston or Austin, as well as smaller cities like Killeen, have a total of about 60 million trees, Smith said. One of the most dramatic changes came in Houston’s Memorial Park, where thousands of pine trees were lost.

That picture tells the story. Estimates for the number of trees lost in the state range up to 500 million. We’re going to feel the effect of this drought long after it ends.

“When all the ships come sailing into the arbor”

Want to do something for Houston? Plant a tree.

Houston’s battle against the relentless drought, thus far characterized by felling, dismembering and mulching dead trees, entered a new phase Friday as parks officials announced plans for an Arbor Day 2012 planting of 25,000 trees in four city parks.

I’m sure all of my regular readers already know this, but just in case there are any strays here today, Arbor Day is traditionally celebrated in the US on the last Friday in April, which this year will be April 27.

“Houston loves its green,” city Parks and Recreation Department Director Joe Turner said in calling for shovel-wielding volunteers to join in the Jan. 21 plant-in. The trees, ranging from adolescents like the one planted Friday to mere seedlings, will be installed in Memorial, Hermann, Mason and MacGregor parks.

City Forester Victor Cordova said the project will focus on seedlings – about 20,000 of them – because the junior trees are more adaptable to environmental conditions. Groups or companies sponsoring the planting of more mature trees must agree to keep them watered for two years.

Did I say April? Well, as Arbor Day is a public domain holiday, you can pretty much make any day you want be Arbor Day. Tradition, schmadition. If you want to take part in this Houston holiday, see the Parks and Rec website for details.

Half a billion trees

Damn.

The current Texas drought has killed as many as 500 million trees 10 percent of the state’s forest cover and the end is not in sight, according to the Texas Forest Service. Some of the hardest-hit areas are in Central Texas.

The numbers are preliminary, the first results from an unprecedented statewide survey of tree mortality across 63 million acres of forest land this year.

They don’t include trees lost to drought-induced wildfire — an estimated 1.5 million trees burned in the Bastrop Labor Day fires alone — or trees that have succumbed to heat and thirst in urban areas.

Though the estimated range of dead trees varies widely — from a low of 100 million to a high of 500 million — the visible evidence of the die-off is still “very shocking,” said Tom Boggus, director of the Texas Forest Service. “It’s a significant change in the landscape.”

And the stress of the past year of record-setting heat, high winds and low rainfall will continue to take its toll on living trees, whether or not the drought continues as forecast for at least another six months, because they have been too weakened to survive.

“We recognize that the mortality will increase even if it started raining,” said Burl Carraway, head of sustainable forestry for the Forest Service.

Read the rest, if you can stand it. We really, really, really, need a lot of rain.

Trouble with the trees

The drought gets more expensive for the city of Houston.

The drought is about to claim yet more of Houston’s green – this time $4.5 million in tax dollars to remove trees that have died of thirst.

Houston’s driest year on record has prompted City Hall to mandate lawn-watering restrictions, hire extra crews to fix water main breaks, ban barbecuing and smoking in city parks and call for park visitors to bring rakes with them to help municipal employees scoop up pine needles and other dead vegetation.

The drought’s length and intensity have become so acute the city has to throw unbudgeted money at it. City Council on Wednesday is scheduled to consider a request by the Parks and Recreation Department for $4.5 million to remove 15,000 dead trees from city parks and esplanades, an amount nearly 13 times what the city spends dragging away dead trees in an average year.

One presumes they have a lot more dead trees to drag away this year than they would in an average year. This is a lot of money, but then a wildfire in a city park would likely cost a whole lot more. I’ll take the ounce of prevention for $4.5 million, thanks. Hair Balls, which also couldn’t resist the Rush reference, has more.

The toll on the trees

CultureMap:

Houston, a city long defined by its gigantic live oak trees and lush landscaping, is changing for the worse as the relentless, thrashing sun has taken a toll on all things green and growing.

The ongoing drought, which is the worst in Houston’s 175-year history, destroyed the first wave of historic live oak trees this week in Memorial Park and throughout the city, Trees for Houston executive director Barry Ward tells CultureMap.

The once utopian backdrop of Memorial Park has been most affected by the outdoor water restrictions, leaving thousands of trees close to dead. Only approximately 400 of those have been removed, and Ward says a potential catastrophic wildfire could strike if the dead trees don’t get cleared out soon.

“If the timber isn’t removed and someone flicks a cigarette butt in the wrong place, 100 acres could be burned down in one day,” Ward says. “Could you imagine? A 100-acre wildfire inside the Loop?”

Just look at the catastrophic fires in Central Texas if you’re having a hard time imagining it. Please, please, let it rain soon.

Keep Heights Green

Got this via a Heights mailing list I’m on:

Keep Heights Green, a local non-profit organization whose mission is to replant trees in the Greater Heights area lost during Hurricane Ike, is hosting its first fundraising event on Thursday, June 18, from 7 to 9 p.m. The organization, which was formed in October 2008, has plans to put 100 trees in the ground this year and maintain them. Having recently planted 18 eight-foot live oak trees along Ella Blvd., Keep Heights Green hopes its Summer Fundraiser will help the organization raise funds to plant the remaining 82 trees to meet its first-year goal. Eighty percent of all funds raised through Keep Heights Green go directly into planting and maintaining what is placed in the ground.

Keep Heights Green’s Summer Fundraiser will be at the amazing and beautiful Indian Summer Lodge, located in the Historic Heights. We’ll have food, wine, entertainment, a silent auction and raffle. Please join
us — you’ll enjoy a great evening in a beautiful and serene garden oasis.

There will be plenty of opportunities to give, and an individual donation of $25 at the door is greatly appreciated! If you’re looking for an opportunity to make a positive impact on your community, this is the event for you!

Event Details

Date: Thursday, June 18
Time: 7 – 9 p.m.
Location: Indian Summer Lodge
605 Columbia at White Oak
Houston, TX 77007
Attire: Your best GREEN cool summer casual

RSVP: ctmoreland@sbcglobal.net or you can RSVP on our Facebook page (and also become a fan of KHG)
http://www.facebook.com/pages/Keep-Heights-Green/

Hope you can make it.