Recovery efforts continue in Bastrop County following 2011 fire

Bastrop County is beginning the New Year by expanding its wildfire recovery effort. The new effort will include prevention.

Gray skies hung over the lost pines burn zone Thursday morning. The conditions only added to the bleakness in this part of Bastrop County. But along Highway 71 a new cover of teal-green-grass seed could be spotted along several hillsides.

"What we are trying to do in our recovery effort is kind of help Mother Nature along," said County EMA Director Mike Fisher.

The erosion control work, while Fisher admits may be easy to overlook in all the devastation, is an important sign of the healing progress that's underway.

"From an immediate stand point, what you see is what you get. but what we can see is the near term, mid-term, is a regrowth, a regeneration of what Mother Nature is going to make that landscape look like," said Fisher.

The Bastrop Complex Fire cut through 34,000 acres of land in September of 2011. Nearly 2,000 homes were destroyed and more than a million loblolly pine trees were killed. To replace what was lost, an aggressive re-vegetation campaign of planting 4 million trees in 5 years just hit the halfway point.

"It's just the very first step in a very long recovery process," said Bastrop State Park Superintendent Jamie Hackett.

The next major milestone will come next winter. That's when small saplings grown from seeds that were recently harvested will join the trees that are growing now. For Hackett, the groundbreaking effort goes beyond putting saplings into the sandy soil; it is also a research opportunity.

"Nobody knows, there is no textbook on how to take recovery forward, but we are learning, and doing as many things as we can to take those right steps," said Hackett.

The focus now is not just on what was burned. County officials want to address what didn't burned, and how to address the remaining threat.

The goal is to start cutting back heavy brush that's located on private property. The County- in the next few weeks- will try to get landowners to sign up for the program. All the work will be paid-for through a federal grant. Those who take part in the brush control program will not be asked to pay for the work. They will have to promise to maintain their land after the heavy growth is cleared away. The program, according to Fisher, is an example of taking a broader more long term approach to the recovery effort.

"I think patience is needed, but I think we need an aggressive attitude toward generating and regenerating."