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Texas Drought May Have Killed As Many As 500 Million Trees: Survey

Dead trees – Texas 2011

The 2011 Texas drought has been anything but forgiving, and in a survey released Monday by the Texas Forest Service, there are estimates that as many as 100-500 million trees have been killed as a result. This constitutes anywhere between 2% and 10% of Texas’ 4.9 billion trees.

Early estimates show the effects are widespread and numerous, but it will take several years to get the data needed to determine the full effect. “Mother Nature is going to dictate what will happen,” said forest resource analyst Chris Edgar.

Rural forests and urban communities are both seeing the effects, with large numbers of trees dying or struggling to survive.

It is difficult for researchers to tell this time of year if a tree is actually dead, so in the spring, foresters will use aerial photography and satellite imagery to take a more in-depth analysis. This technology will measure trees that produce new leaves for the season, helping determine how they respond to drought and whether or not they survived.

There will also be a more long-term study through data collected with the Forestry Inventory and Analysis, which is basically a “census” for trees. This allows researchers to keep a close watch on trees to evaluate how they are developing and changing across the state.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), severe and extreme drought affected about 20% of the United States this year. When tree’s life cycles are combined with the heat, lack of rain, and wind associated with a drought, the research conducted to determine the effects can take several years before any true numbers are formed.

With this drought lasting considerably longer than anticipated, it doesn’t sound like the damage is going to stop any time soon. And it’s not just Christmas trees that are taking the heat, either.

Image CC licensed by Sandy Kelly: Lake Lavon walk 9.4.2011

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