John Muir said, “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.” We saw that in Central Texas following the devastating wildfires in early September. The severity of the disaster was in part due to ignoring this principle and allowing the decay of a native ecosystem and creating higher risks of fire.
Austin Chapter member Ryan Fleming and Williamson County Chapter member Sue Wiseman initiated the “Healing Hands Healing Lands” project because they saw the urgency to restore the area as rapidly as possible to avoid further destruction of the unique regional flora and fauna. Their idea was to aid and accelerate healing of the natural ecosystems by providing seed balls containing native flower, grass and other plant seeds normally found in the affected areas.
Members of the Williamson County, Austin, Lost Pines and other Native Plant Society chapters joined with Master Naturalists and Master Gardeners, garden club members, hundreds of school children, and many other sponsors and participants to offer hands to help heal the wounded lands.
In October a group of 14 volunteers assembled approximately 450 seed ball kits from a ton of dry red art clay purchased from Armadillo Clay in Austin, a half yard of organic compost donated by GeoGrowers in Austin and Olde Thyme Gardens in Circleville, and 25 pounds of native seed mix selected by and purchased from Bill Neiman of Native American Seed in Junction. Extensive discussions were held with authorities in the Bastrop area to ensure that the seed for the kits would be genetically compatible with the sensitive native environment. Funds to pay for the materials were provided through private donations.
Kits were distributed to young people in schools, scouting groups and church groups in a six to seven county Central Texas area. The project would not have been possible without the broad involvement of the young people who actually made the balls. This was an opportunity to teach younger citizens about the importance of re-establishing the correct native plants in the ecosystems. It also allowed the children of the area to help in a unique and very important way and allowed them to feel helpful in healing the community.
During November and December roughly 300 youth groups with upwards of 1000 participants rolled seed balls from the materials in the kits. These sessions were accompanied by educational discussions led by adult volunteers describing the fire in Bastrop, the consequent damage to the vegetation and the threat to the long term health of the local ecosystem. The volunteers emphasized the importance of selecting native seed varieties appropriate for revegetating the land and conforming to the natural ecosystem of the area.
In December another group of volunteers gathered at Sue Wiseman’s home to package the seed balls in paper bags for distribution. Representatives of the Pines and Prairies Land Trust picked up around 1400 bags—over one-half ton of packaged seed balls—and distributed two bags to each Bastrop landowner who requested them. A further supply of bags was distributed at a January 13 restoration workshop in Bastrop. TPWD biologist Meredith Longoria and Bastrop County HCP administrator Roxanne Hernandez will be in charge of getting the remaining seed balls to the residents who need them.
Leftover seed ball kits have been given to the Lost Pines Master Naturalists for distribution to groups within the Bastrop area that want to participate. Remaining funds in the Healing Hands Healing Lands account will be donated to the TPWD Relief Fund.
Sue said that one of the recipients, a fellow Master Naturalist, told her that the group was considered angels. “The gift of seed balls to folks who moved into the Lost Pines area because they appreciated nature has been very special. It really hit home that someone would want to give someone else a little something to help in healing nature.”
The Bastrop County fire may have been a single tug on nature, but it has evoked a response from many in the rest of the world. The Native Plant Society can be proud that its members have played a leading role in the Healing Hands, Healing Lands project. This experience can be a model for further cooperative work by the many organizations that took part.