Innovators: Albert Engstrom Forest Regeneration Center in Oklahoma

Article excerpt

A wildfire that swept 34,000 acres in Texas charring more than 1.5 million trees pushed the Texas Forest Service to turn to Oklahoma to help rebuild the lost ecosystem.

For the last year, the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry has been growing more than 100,000 seedlings of native Texas species to send back home, said Scott Huff, the Oklahoma forestry service's Goldsby nursery manager. It's a rare opportunity for one agency to lend a helping hand across state lines.

"It's like I've said before: neighbor helping neighbor," Huff said. "There have been a few notable projects that we've helped with from year to year, but this is definitely one of the more sizable ones. ... We need to help get things back to the way nature intended them to be. Overall, it's about recovery and getting back to the norm.

"And one of these days we may need some help ourselves," he said. "This is a productive interdepartmental partnership."

The Bastrop County fire started in late 2011 when high winds triggered electric power line sparks. It was extinguished in late October after killing two people, destroying nearly 1,700 homes and causing an estimated $325 million in insured property damage east of Austin. Officials declared it the most destructive single wildfire in Texas' history.

Texas wildlife and forestry agencies faced a monumental task of repopulating the area with unique loblolly pines that have adapted to the Lost Pines Forest. Even though the Pinus taeda species grows quickly, Texas' nurseries were overtaxed and Oklahoma had the expertise, said George Geissler, Oklahoma's state forester. …