Blanco River reforestation OKed to continue

A $261,000 agreement approved by Hays County commissioners Jan. 2 allows TreeFolks, a Central Texas non-profit organization, to continue its vegetation restoration efforts on the Blanco River.

 TreeFolks’ efforts following the devastating May 2015 flood has been accepted by many landowners, said Clint Garza, Hays County development services director.

 Matt Mears, TreeFolks reforestation manager, said Jan. 2 there has been an “overwhelming response” from the community to the Blanco River reforestation program, which originally began in September 2015.

 The program has so far planted over 100,000 trees along the Blanco River and has replanted vegetation on the properties of 75 landowners. TreeFolks expects to help another 75 landowners in 2018. 

Hays County Pct. 3 Commissioner Will Conley (top left) helps plant trees along with the TreeFolks organization. (photo by Moses Leos III)

Mears said the response has so far exceeded TreeFolk’s expectations, with the program harboring 25 percent participation over the first two weeks it was introduced. By comparison, Mears said a similar tree replanting program enacted following the Bastrop Complex Fire in 2012 had 20 percent participation over the course of five years.

TreeFolks works with landowners through direct education and tree planting, with the primary goal of creating “grow zones,” or areas of dense vegetation along the river.

“This is very crucial to slow down future floods,” Mears said. “This is about reducing the risk in the future. We know future floods are going to happen, but we are making the river more resilient.”

Mears said improving water quality by promoting a “healthy forest,” as well as improving air quality are additional components to riparian recovery.

“The concept there is to prevent further erosion down the way, allow the river to recover and once it recovers fully, have a flight control aspect to slow the water down,” Garza said.

However, not all landowners along the Blanco River participated in the program. According to county officials, some landowners discovered their property wasn’t heavily damaged, so they opted not to participate.

“This is very crucial to slow down future floods … This is about reducing the risk in the future. We know future floods are going to happen, but we are making the river more resilient.” Matt Mears, TreeFolks reforestation manager

Lon Shell, Hays County Pct. 3 commissioner, said he also saw many landowners whom he didn’t expect to participate “jump in with both feet.”

Shell said the agreement with TreeFolks is another step toward recovery from the flood, as well as bolster the economy of Wimberley, which derives tax dollars from lodging and rental resorts near the river.

However, he also realized there is still more work to be done. One aspect is completing debris removal, which has reached a point where skilled contractors are needed to complete major work.

“This will benefit the public of this county for many years to come and hopefully will help us get through the flood we’re going to experience in the future,” Shell said.

But Hays County resident Dan Lyon said it was “simply wrong” to spend public money on private property. He also felt it wasn’t the county’s responsibility to replant trees knocked down on private lands after a natural disaster.

Mears said the county is leveraging its funds with private fundraising, which has been done since the program began. To date, roughly $150,000 has been fundraised, Mears said.

Hays County has also taken part in federal matching grant programs to assist with the restoration effort.

“All these types of things are things we can’t plan for,” Hays County Pct. 4 Commissioner Ray Whisenant said. “They wind up being those circumstances that we have to work together as public and private considerations to see to it that we provide the best opportunity to maintain the best and safe life situations.”

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