Timber industry notes drought losses
Jan. 19, 2012 - According to the Texas Forestry Service, East Texas has an abundance of forestland. Individual East Texans own about 64 percent of the forestland, with Timber Investment Management Organizations, forest industry and government owning the rest. Today's forests are the result of planning done 20 to 50 years ago. Much of that abundant timber has suffered greatly during the 2011 drought, leaving those reliant on the timber industry wondering whether or not to replant or hold out, hoping the next planting season brings better conditions.
"Last time when we put out our statewide numbers, we had a range of 100 million to 500 million trees that where killed by the 2011 drought," said Burl Caraway Texas Forestry Service department head for sustainable forestry. "Something that is important about those numbers is that they include trees that are on forestland only, which means, not trees in your yard or a shopping mall parking lot, this is only trees out in the forest."
In December 2011, the Texas Forestry Service put out a release asking forestry experts across the state to give a visual observation for an estimate on just how many of the trees were killed due to the 2011 drought. At this point, Caraway said, it is still a bit too early to tell just how much loss the state really suffered.
"For pine trees, it is pretty easy, if they are brown or red, then you can tell they are dead, because pine tree needles are supposed to be green all year round," Caraway explained. "The issue we have, especially when you are looking at Texas statewide, is that other trees are more difficult to tell this time of year if they are dead. Even what we saw last summer, like in August, a lot of the hardwood trees started to kind of shutdown early. Maybe they thought it was kind of fall early, so they started to shut down.
"We really wont know for sure until this spring when the hardwood trees get their leaves back during what we call 'leaf up,'" he said. "Obviously, you can walk up to an individual tree and dig into the bark a little bit and tell if it is still alive or not, but when you are trying to look at it from a landscape point of view, it is kind of difficult to tell how many are alive or dead."
The Forestry Service noted three multi-county areas in the state that were hit the hardest. One in West Texas -- Sonora area going down I-10, including Crockett County, Terrell County, Sutton County and parts of Pecos County.
"All those ash junipers out there, there are some areas that almost as far as you can see down the interstate on both sides that they are all dead," Caraway said.
An area in East Texas that was notable was northwest of Houston, where pine trees where very hard hit. In the area of Bastrop and Caldwell Counties, experts reported severe cedar and post oak loss.
"Drought mortality in general, it is very spotty. You will see a bunch of trees that are alive, and then one or two spots of dead trees," Caraway explained. "But, those three areas were kind of the areas of the most notable mortality, where you would see many, many trees in a group that had died."
All this considered, it may still be plausible for some to replant, provided they consider all their options and know what to expect. Caraway suggested that before choosing to replant, timber owners should seek the opinion of an expert on their situation to help them make choices cohesive with their land's capabilities.
"If you are a landowner, are you getting assistance? Are you working with the forest service?" he queried. "They can help you make decisions on what kind of site preparation you need to do and what kind of competition, like weeds or other plants, need to be controlled so that they are not competing with the pine seedlings for moisture, especially."
Another factor is the quality of the site the landowner intends to plant, be it an especially dry site with compacted soil or a high-quality site. A professional forester can help with those determinations and considerations as well.
Landowners can get local soil moistures conditions from Texas Forest Service, or Texas AgriLife Extension Service office through, http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/Soilmst_Monitoring/US/Soilmst/Soilmst.shtml
Landowners can choose to plant in fall, winter or spring. Most prefer to plant in the fall, but many delayed given last year's conditions.
According to a Texas Forestry Article entitled 'To plant or not to plant,' although the winter planting season is a good season to plant in times of adequate rainfall, winter planting provides less time for seedlings to establish a root system and acclimate to the site in comparison to fall-planted seedlings.
Those planting in the spring may find seedlings are not able to establish themselves before the onset of summer heat.
Once all the factors are considered, Caraway said it is still a tough decision as young trees will take years to mature and long-term forecasts, while they are likely to be less accurate on average than the short term, are still an important tool.
According to the Texas Forestry Service article landowners should delay planting until the next planting season if the precipitation outlook for the next three months is not favorable. Landowners can go to http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/index.php, to get a three-month outlook. Landowners can also utilize the US drought Assessment cite: http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/index.php.
Caraway suggests that no matter when a landowner is considering planting, they should consult with a forester to increase the likelihood of a successful planting. Visit the Texas Forestry Service at www.txforestservice.tamu.edu for more.