WHAT IS THE DEAL WITH BASTROP'S TREE SITUATION
I received an email today inquiring about lumber material for a sustainable housing project in Austin. This led me to respond with a brief explanation about the tree situation in Bastrop's fire area and our experiences trying to mill it for lumber.
I am conducting materials research for Foundation Communities (http://www.foundcom.org/) to build affordable housing in Austin. We are trying to meet an extremely ambitious sustainability certification known as the Living Building Challenge (http://living-future.org/lbc).
We thought that Bastrop burned timber might be an abundant and under-utilized resource in our region and by exposing some of this burned wood in the building project we could tell the story of this vicious fire.
We are individual homeowners who lost our home in the fire. We had hundreds of pine trees and a desire to use the timber from our 7 acres of forestland to rebuild our home. Initially, we tried working with a start-up organization, Logs to Lumber, who had worked out a milling arrangement with a sawmill in Huntsville - the intention, fire victims could get lumber to rebuild. We personally made efforts to bring awareness to Logs to Lumber and utilizing the timber for our community... however, Logs to Lumber was never able to get the support for equipment, labor and transport needed in order to harvest effectively. Sadly, of 1700 homes lost and the need for housing/building material in our immediate area, the timber was never harvested in a way that was beneficial for our own community.
Although I appreciate the spirit of your request, unfortunately, the Lost Pines timber today is not viable for lumber due to the state of decomposition...in fact, the majority of forest area is still standing burned, dead and now broken. It is an emotional and visual blight for those of us still living among it. In hindsight, it is my opinion there are a number of factors why there has been an enormous amount of timber wasted here (for building lumber).
One, we are in a endangered species area (Houston Toad) and the federal agencies simply did not allow commercial loggers to harvest timber without costly liability coverage (5x the state requirement)....therefore, industry loggers never came to Bastrop to commercially harvest for lumber. This factor has left homeowners stuck without the resources necessary to cleanup. The county and utilities had loggers here to clear right-of-ways and utility easements, however the timber that was cut by their federal contractors was primarily mulched, but never milled for lumber. As of just a couple of months ago, a new wood pellet (biomass fuel) processing plant was given permission from Texas Fish and Wildlife to come in and harvest the burn area. They are under the supervision of biologists protecting the Toad and project it will take an additional 3-5 years to clean up the burn area (Update 8/26/2015- Go Green shuts down in Paige, homeowners still in need).
Reason number two, it requires a significant amount of energy and resources to harvest, transport and mill for dimensional lumber....especially for timber which is not specifically grown for the purpose of harvest (such as timber farms in East Texas). Quite simply, it is A LOT of work without the means of large logging operations....and we live in a day in age where it is just easier to go to Home Depot for a $2 2x4. The efforts we have personally made have been of our own volition and diligence. Not having the heavy equipment resources available, we had to be creative in the personal harvest of our timber. In May 2012, we made a game of it and held a competition for 4x4 trucks and tractors to pull logs from our forest and out to our road (Lost Pines Log Pull). We successfully pulled 237 twenty-foot logs in two days. Due to transportation costs, we ultimately made the decision to take our timber 25 miles away to a small specialty sawmill in Elgin. We paid out of pocket to have our first run of 100 logs cut, and subsequently befriended the sawmill owner who bartered with us to trade my husbands labor at the mill, for the rest of the milling work needed to rebuild our home. Today we are living in our home which we personally built, and it is made out of the trees from our property...it isn't yet complete and we still have a lot of work ahead, but we are finally feeling the fruits of our labors.
My apologies for the long-winded email, and that was probably more than you wanted to know....but I thought the response deserved a brief explanation of a complicated situation with the state of Bastrop's trees. We know the owners of the two local sawmills in Bastrop County and neither milled the pines in any significant way. We only know of a handful of people who even used the resource at all in rebuilding, and we are the only ones I know of who milled dimensional lumber for framing material. So, as for other resources to direct you to for Bastrop lumber, I know of none and I believe it to be a lost cause at this point.