Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

Texas Drought Has Likely Killed Over 5 Million Urban Trees

Photo by Flickr user GrungeTextures/Creative Commons

The Texas drought has killed an estimated 5.6 million urban trees and 500 million forest trees, roughly 10 percent of the trees in Texas.

A new study from the Texas Forest Service has bad news about the trees in your neighborhood. They estimate that 5.6 million trees in the urban areas of Texas –  those leafy providers of shade around your home and dotting your parks – are now dead. This number could be up to ten percent of the urban trees in Texas. (A separate study late last year of forest trees in non-urban areas said that 500 million of those could be dead due to the drought.)

The Forest Service sent out “urban foresters” to conduct the study last month. Foresters looked at satellite photos from before and during the drought, “counting both live and dead trees in randomly selected plots on both public and private land,” according to the study. “All cities and towns in Texas were included in the study with the exception of the Trans Pecos region, where tree mortality was determined to be a result of a February 2011 cold snap; not the drought.”

“This estimate is preliminary because trees are continuing to die from the drought,” says Pete Smith, Texas Forest Service staff forester and lead researcher, in a release accompanying the study. “This means we may be significantly undercounting the number of trees that ultimately will succumb to the drought. That number may not be known until the end of 2012, if ever.”

And removing the dead trees (a safety hazard) will be costly, with an estimate of $560 million. The Forest Service also says the lost economic benefit of the trees (in the form of energy lost because the trees are no longer cooling homes, cleaning air and water, and keeping property values higher) is $280 million a year.

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