Newswise — 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.”
Commercial tree growers ArborGen in Bullard, Texas, and the Louisiana State Nursery in DeRidder, La., are also growing trees for the reforestation program called the Bastrop County Community Reforestation Program. The Arbor Day Foundation has pledged funding for the trees, with the Wildflower Center and the other facilities growing about1 million loblollies a year for each of the next five years for use on public and private lands.
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.
To prepare for the growing project at the center, Nursery Manager Sean Watson and other center staff are nearly doubling the size of the Tree Nursery to 7,200 square feet. Shade structures and underground irrigation will be added for the saplings. A part-time arborist will also be hired to nurture them in their individual containers.
The center has allocated $70,000 in start-up costs for the beefed up growing project. Contributions from South Texas Money Management, Ltd., and Austin resident Claire McAdams have helped offset the growing operation costs.
A molecular biology graduate student, Vlad Codrea, received a $54,000 University of Texas at Austin grant to fund the project that is currently making 60,000 loblolly pines, Montezuma cypress and other trees available for sharing with Bastrop residents. The grant came from the university’s Green Fee Committee. An added $22,000 came from a fundraiser Balcones Recycling held for the Wildflower Center for this initial version of the Reforestation Program. This year’s tree plantings also involve thousands of loblollies provided by TFS from their West Texas Nursery near Lubbock.
Other partners in the Bastrop County Community Reforestation Program include TreeFolks, Bastrop County and their Sheriff’s Office, Bowman Consulting, American YouthWorks Texas Conservation Corps, the Apache Foundation, the Arbor Day Foundation, the Lost Pines Recovery Team, H-E-B, and McCoy’s Building Supply.