Dec. 19, 2011 — COLLEGE STATION, Texas — As many as 500 million trees
scattered across the Lone Star State have died this year as a result of the
unrelenting drought, according to preliminary estimates from Texas Forest
The numbers were derived by Texas Forest Service foresters,
who canvassed local forestry professionals, gathering information from them on
the drought and its effect on trees in their respective communities.
Each forestry expert estimated the percentage of trees in
their region that have died as a result of the 2011 drought. That percentage
was applied to the estimated number of trees in the region, a figure determined
by the agency’s Forest Inventory & Analysis (FIA) program.
Using this approach, an estimated 100 million to 500
million trees with a diameter of 5 inches or larger on forestland were estimated to have succumbed
to the drought. That range is equivalent to 2 to 10 percent of the state’s 4.9
“In 2011, Texas experienced an exceptional drought,
prolonged high winds and record-setting temperatures. Together, those conditions
took a severe toll on trees across the state,” said Burl Carraway, Sustainable
Forestry department head. “Large numbers of trees in both urban communities and
rural forests have died or are struggling to survive. The impacts are numerous
The preliminary estimates indicate three multi-county
areas appear to be the hardest hit. The area including Sutton, Crockett,
western Kimble and eastern Pecos counties saw extensive mortality among Ashe
The area including Harris, Montgomery, Grimes, Madison
and Leon counties saw extensive mortality among loblolly pines. Western Bastrop
and eastern Caldwell counties, as well as surrounding areas, saw extensive
mortality among cedars and post oaks.
Additionally, localized pockets of heavy mortality were reported
for many other areas.
Texas Forest Service foresters plan to use aerial imagery
to conduct a more in-depth analysis in the spring, which is when trees that may
have gone into early dormancy — an act of self-preservation — could begin to
make a comeback.
A more scientific, long-term study will be completed as
the agency collects data through its FIA program. Considered a census for
trees, the federally-funded program allows the agency to keep a close watch on
trees — and how they’re growing and changing — across the state.
As part of the program, foresters are tasked with surveying
certain, designated plots of land each year. Because the state is so big, it
takes a decade to complete a full inventory cycle.
“Quantifying the impacts of a statewide drought on tree
survival is no small task,” Carraway said, noting that Texas was home to 63
million acres of forestland, much of which is in remote areas.
“During this time of year, it’s difficult to tell in some
cases if a tree is truly dead. And keep in mind that the drought is ongoing. We
fully expect mortality percentages to increase if the drought continues.”
Dr. Chris Edgar, Forest Resource Analyst
interviews Dec. 19 to Dec. 21.
Burl Carraway, Sustainable Forestry Department Head
interviews Dec. 19 to Dec. 20.
Service, a member of the Texas A&M University System, will be closed from Friday,
Dec. 23, 2011, through Sunday, Jan. 1, 2012. During this time, emergency media inquiries
should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Offices will re-open Monday, Jan. 2, 2012.