Texas Forest Service Launches Scientific Survey Of Drought

Over the next two months, forestry crews will fan out across rural areas of the state. At 700 randomly-chosen spots, they’ll count dead trees within a 75-foot radius.

They’ll also look for diseased trees that may be dying. 

Chris Brown is with Forest Service at Texas A&M:

“Tree death is a process, it doesn’t happen just at one time usually. The drought is pre-disposing a lot of the trees to other pests. So you may take a tree that survived the drought but the drought weakened it and that allowed an insect to get past the tree’s defense and infest the tree, which would then eventually kill it.”

Late last year, the Forest Service estimated that between 100 million and 500 million trees may have died in the drought.

At the low end, that’s 2 percent of the total tree cover in Texas. At the high end, that’s 10 percent of the trees.

But Brown says a true census had to wait until spring. Some trees that looked distressed last fall might have put out new leaves in the spring after all.

Brown says the survey will provide a more accurate count, and more data on where the damage was worse:

“The pines were hit very hard in areas, the water oaks we believe they were hit very hard, elms. Really all of the trees. We don’t have a good feeling for what trees were withstanding the drought well, other than the mesquite. Mesquite seems to have handled the drought very well.”

A report from this survey could be available as early as August, although forestry crews will spend years assessing the long-term effects of the drought of 2011.

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