Oasis Fire Workshop well attended

April 25, 2015

The Junction Eagle
April 22, 2015
by James Murr

A workshop on the Oasis Pipeline fire was held on April 18th at Texas Tech’s Llano River Field Station in Junction.  The fire burned around 9,000 acres about 14 miles southwest of Junction during April 24 to May 10 in 2011. This article is the last in a series of three about the fire. 

The first two articles reviewed the fire’s scope, cooperative firefighting efforts, costs, and different land restoration and recovery approaches that were tried on a pilot basis after the fire.  The well-attended workshop provided an overview of the preceding and focused on the critical role of land stewardship in fostering land recovery and the all-important connection between land and water.

The South Llano Watershed Alliance (SLWA) and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) sponsored the workshop that was attended by almost 60 individuals, which included 25 landowners.  In addition to the landowners, representatives from businesses and state and federal agencies were present.  A listing of exhibitors at the workshop follows at the end of this article.

Scott Richardson, SLWA, provided commentary and presented a brief video on the horrific fire at the Fox Hollow subdivision where the pilot restoration and recovery efforts were undertaken along U.S. 377.  A two-hour panel presentation by natural resources professionals followed and was moderated by Gary Garrett, PhD, who retired from the TPWD and is currently with the University of Texas. 

The panel addressed the components of a watershed; grazing management after a fire; wildlife browsing after a fire; achieving habitat recovery; the bad and good aspects of fire and the benefits of controlled burns; and protecting ecosystems and their watersheds before harm is caused.  The critical importance of the connection between healthy land and the availability of water and the benefits of responsible land stewardship were overarching themes. 

As panelist Steve Nelle stated – “As the condition of the land goes, so goes the water.”   In this regard, Tom Arsuffi pointed out that the springs of the Hill Country are the source of five major river systems in Texas.  Nelle stated further that the importance of responsible land stewardship and its far reaching effects on society at large could not be overemphasized.

Speakers on the panel, in order of their appearance, were Bill Neiman, Native American Seed; Kason Haby, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS); Joyce Moore, TPWD; Mark Stinson, Texas A&M Forest Service; Chris Harper, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; Arsuffi, PhD, Texas Tech’s Llano River Field Station; and Nelle, NRCS retiree and consultant.

After the panel discussion the group went to the fire-damaged land, which included some very steep slopes, at the aforementioned Fox Hollow subdivision.  While there the land recovery approaches that were tested on a pilot basis for the past four years were observed:  log erosion barriers; fiber rolls; slash spreading (dispersing accumulations of branches and foliage over an area); check dams; and mulching.  The different types of regrowth were observed at various locations.  For example, where exclosures had been placed the negative effect of wildlife browsing was clearly evident as the areas outside the exclosures had considerably less regrowth. 

After leaving Fox Hollow, a picnic lunch was held along the river at the South Llano River State Park and there was a walking tour of some of the park’s riparian area (i.e., the area of interface between land and a river or stream).  Nelle pointed out the habitat enhancement and land saving functions of the floodplain, the condition (health) of the flood plain, and the desirable and undesirable plants that were present along the way. 

Dr. Arsuffi, when asked to sum up the workshop, said:  “Natural disasters such as drought and the resulting Oasis Fire, in our own backyard, are becoming more common.  As the saying goes, “it takes a community” and the diverse partnerships in response to the many short and long term impacts of the fire go a long way towards maintaining a healthy watershed and sound preparation for dealing with the next big whatever.  This is what friends are for!” 

After the meeting, and in response to a question, the SLWA’s Richardson described how the wildfire, its aftermath, and ongoing recovery of the land created a unique partnership of private landowners, organizations, volunteers, businesses, and both state and federal agencies and how the Oasis fire has shown the value of such rare partnerships.

Workshop participants departed feeling well informed and in possession of new knowledge.  As a bonus they were given a fire-related informational binder and a package of specially formulated seed mix for helping with the recovery of scorched lands.  The seed mix, formulated by Native American Seed, includes 30 prairie grasses and wildflowers.

Two private companies with exhibits at the workshop were Native American Seed and Sustainable Growth Texas; other exhibitors were the Llano River Field Station, South Llano Watershed Alliance, Texas A&M Forest Service, Texas Wildlife Association, Upper Llanos Soil and Water Conservation District, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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