The mid-October skies in Smithville were cloaked by a thick smoke after a wildfire ignited near Buescher and Bastrop State Parks. Now that the final embers have been extinguished, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department staff has completed initial assessments of the wildfire impacts on park land.
“The Lost Pines area is no stranger to tragedy, yet once again the local community pulled together to work hand-in-hand alongside TPWD and Texas A&M Forest Service staff and other partners to suppress the fire and protect the land,” said Carter Smith, TPWD Executive Director. “Make no mistake, without this very substantial commitment and collaboration among all who responded, the damage and destruction from this significant fire event would no doubt have been even more catastrophic.”
Overall, 684 acres of park land were impacted by the fire, including most of the scenic Park Road 1C corridor, 10 acres at Bastrop State Park, and more than half of Buescher State Park. In total, this blaze impacted almost 5,000 acres with about 35 percent having reached extreme intensity, indicating that all trees were killed. By comparison, the 2011 Bastrop County Complex wildfire covered 34,000 acres, of which 75 percent saw extreme fire intensity levels.
Texas A&M Forest Service surveyed the 2,312 acres of the Hidden Pines Fire that burned outside the 2011 Bastrop County Complex fire boundary. This area encompasses part of Buescher State Park, private and public property. The state agency estimates that 143,000 out of 233,000 trees were killed in this area, including those likely to die as a result of the wildfire. This translates into a potential $1.8 million loss in ecosystem services — a value placed on the annual social, economic and environmental benefits the trees provided the area before the fire.
Buescher saw more than five miles of trail, three foot bridges and numerous trail markers, park signs and fencing lost to the fire. Except for the hiking and biking trail system, Buescher State Park has reopened after being closed for almost two weeks while the fire was being contained
“Fire is and can be a good thing, since it is required for maintaining and sustaining the pine forests,” said Jamie Creacy, superintendent at Buescher and Bastrop State Parks. “However, fire had been suppressed in these forested habitats for the past several decades, allowing incredible accumulation of ‘fuel,’ which supported catastrophic wildfire – negatively impacting communities and natural resources.”
TPWD staff has completed burn severity analysis and mapping of the wildfire. This data is being used to guide restoration and mitigation efforts on park lands and on adjacent private lands, just as it did following the 2011 fire.
“We have learned a great deal from our research and monitoring efforts after the 2011 Bastrop wildfire, and we will be applying that knowledge and lessons learned to the recovery and restoration of Buescher,” said Creacy.
Burn severity mapping provides an assessment of how intensely the wildfire burned across the landscape, and is essential in evaluating the potential for vegetation recovery, assessing wildlife habitat disturbance, determining potential effects of fire on endangered species and other species of concern, and gauging whether the fire had beneficial ecological effects by restoring the landscape to a more historically similar state.
Now that the burn severity mapping has been completed, staff has begun initial rehabilitation projects, including erosion control along fire lines and steep slopes. Additional projects will begin in the coming months, including hazard tree removal, invasive plant management, reforestation and other habitat restoration activities. Continued research and monitoring will guide TPWD’s long-term restoration strategies.
For more information about the parks, visit http://texasstateparks.org.