Protecting Bastrop’s forests: new FEMA money on the way

BASTROP, Texas (KXAN) – Two and a half years after the largest fire in Texas history, Bastrop County has secured a $4 million grant from FEMA to reduce the strength and range of possible future burns.

County commissioners gave their blessing this week to cost-share one quarter of the funds.

“It’s in the bank,” said Mike Fisher, the county’s emergency management coordinator.

The federal funds will pay for clearing out nearly 400 acres of dead and undesirable trees in a county-owned conservation area called the Welsh Tract. It’s surrounded by more than 200 homes, a city document showed. Work is expected to get underway by mid-June. It may soon extend to another 3,700 acres of private land on the edge of the 2011 burn scar.

“I have visions and I’ve discussed this with some of the leadership,” said Fisher. “Even after this federal money is spent and those acres are done and remediated, to even have ongoing remediation in other places of the county, other fuel types.”

An added benefit would be to rehabilitate some of the remaining forested areas of the 900 square mile rural county, Fisher said.

“We can’t just dwell on the pine forest, we have to look at all the non-native species around the county,” Fisher told KXAN, referring to the eastern red cedar, small diameter lobolly pine, yaupon and mesquite some of which was first planted by early settlers to the area.

Fisher pointed out even though the Bastrop Complex wildfire in the early fall of 2011 consumed 34,000 acres and more than 1,600 homes , another simultaneous fire called the Union Chapel fire consumed 700 acres and 28 homes.

Of the FEMA-funded fuel mitigation program, Fisher said the Texas A&M Forest Service will do the clearing work and environmental experts from Texas State University will oversee the biological impact of the project.

The Bastrop wildfire that flared up Sept. 4, 2011, killed two people and was likely started by sparks from power lines, investigators ruled.

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