Hundreds of Aggies to plant thousands of trees at fire-ravaged Bastrop State Park

POSTED: Monday, February 11, 2013 - 8:20pm
UPDATED: Monday, February 11, 2013 - 8:21pm

Flash back to Labor Day weekend in 2011 when high winds spawned by a tropical storm in Louisiana combined with epic drought conditions to fuel the most damaging wildfire in Texas history in and around the Central Texas community of Bastrop. Massive help poured in then for the people affected by the fire. Now, fast forward to this weekend when hundreds of Texas A&M University students will partner with the Texas A&M Forest Service (TFS) and Texas Parks and Wildlife to help the Lost Pines ecosystem recover by planting thousands of pine seedlings.

The student aspect is being led by Aggie Replant, a student environmental organization.

Approximately 800 Texas A&M students will bus over to Bastrop State Park Saturday morning (Feb. 16) to start planting 30,000 seedlings as part of Replant’s community outreach efforts. The students will separate into four groups – one Saturday and another Sunday and repeat the process next weekend—in planting loblolly pine seedlings to replenish the trees lost in the fire.

The event kicks off at the picnic/swimming pool area of the park at 10 a.m. Saturday with brief remarks by representatives of the participating entities and invited dignitaries.

Texas A&M System Chancellor John Sharp was instrumental in bringing the key groups together to carry out the initiative, citing the benefits to the state and its citizens.

“This a grand example of working together for the common good – Aggies volunteering their weekend time to join teams from the Texas A&M Forest Service and the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department to restore this state treasure – the Lost Pines of Bastrop State Park – for future generations,” Sharp notes. “For our Texas A&M University students, this event demonstrates our core value of selfless service, while also carrying out the land-grant mission of the Forest Service and The Texas A&M University System overall for the benefit of Texas and Texans.”

John Han, Aggie Replant director, agrees with Chancellor Sharp, saying, “I am excited for the opportunity that has been given to Texas A&M. We are taking the initiative to assist a community in need and that is truly exemplary. I think that this project does a good job of embodying Texas A&M and its core values.”

Katharina Moeller, another Aggie Replant leader, offers more from the student perspective: “The Lost Pines Recovery Campaign is something that Replant is so proud to participate in and plan. We have spent countless hours preparing for this project and cannot wait to see the results. The interest in the project from the students was outstanding and the help we received in marketing the project was phenomenal.”

Moeller says Replant has recruited hundreds of Aggies to come together and show the selfless service, leadership and respect – in this case for the environment – that are among the university’s core values. Aggie Replant is believed to be the first student-led university organization to participate in the Bastrop recovery campaign – certainly on the scale being undertaken.

“It’s great that Texas A&M students will have a role in restoring Bastrop State Park. I’m sure many have seen the devastation as they drive along Highway 21, maybe on their way home on a break, and these Aggie Replant weekends are a chance to lend a helping hand,” says Pete Smith, TFS urban forestry program manager. “TFS foresters will be there to help train the students on proper planting technique so that the Lost Pines seedlings they plant can survive the long, hot summer ahead.

TFS foresters are helping facilitate the Aggie planting events and training the students on proper planting technique, working alongside Bastrop State Park rangers.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Commissioner Bill Jones of Austin said it’s been exciting to see the generosity Texans displayed in the aftermath of the Bastrop wildfire.

“I personally visited Bastrop State Park in the days following the fire and, like so many, was stunned and made heartsick by what I saw,” said Jones, a 1981 Texas A&M graduate and former member of The Texas A&M University System Board of Regents. “There are many ways to help the Bastrop area rise from the proverbial ashes, but bringing back the trees is an essential step to restore the region’s heart and soul. All of us owe a huge debt of thanks to the Aggie Replant volunteers, and to the many others who have given their time and money so generously to help.”

Since wildfire recovery replanting started Dec. 1, 214,089 seedlings have been planted at Bastrop State Park. The park has reopened since the fire, including all campgrounds, cabins and almost all trails. See the Bastrop State Park web page for complete visitor information and the latest on wildfire recovery.

Officials say the first priority for TFS was to germinate and grow the seed into seedlings. Nursery partners – including state facilities in Louisiana and Oklahoma, as well as the private seedling nursery, ArborGen, in Bullard, Texas – were asked to grow-out the seedlings.

“It means a great deal to my agency to have been part of the wildfire response in Bastrop,” said Tom Boggus, Texas A&M Forest Service director. “But it means even more to be part of the recovery. TFS is providing 100 percent of the genetically-unique seed to be able to restore the Lost Pines. And although the agency has the seed source, it is the support of the Arbor Day Foundation and their corporate partners that helped make this all possible.”

Last fall, Texas A&M Forest Service, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, and Arbor Day Foundation launched the Lost Pines Forest Recovery Campaign, a public-private partnership to raise money to plant more than 4 million trees. Since then, more than $2 million in donations has been raised to aid Bastrop wildfire recovery. Tree plantings this season are being paid for by the Apache Corporation, Friends of the Lost Pines, Nobelity Project and many other donors.

More information regarding the seedling distribution plan and other restoration and recovery efforts is posted on the Lost Pines Recovery Team website.

Information on donations and volunteer opportunities can be found here.

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