A man walks along Lake Travis after water receded during a drought in Austin, Texas 10 September 2011. Joshua Lott / Reuters

By Jim Forsyth; Editing by Corrie MacLaggan and Greg McCune
20 December 2011

SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) – The massive drought that has dried out Texas over the past year has killed as many as half a billion trees, according to new estimates from the Texas Forest Service.

"In 2011, Texas experienced an exceptional drought, prolonged high winds, and record-setting temperatures," Forest Service Sustainable Forestry chief Burl Carraway told Reuters on Tuesday. "Together, those conditions took a severe toll on trees across the state."

He said that between 100 million and 500 million trees were lost. That figure does not include trees killed in wildfires that have scorched an estimated 4 million acres in Texas since the beginning of 2011. A massive wildfire in Bastrop, east of Austin in September that destroyed 1,600 homes, is blamed for killing 1.5 million trees.

The tree loss is in both urban and rural areas and represents as much as 10 percent of all the trees in the state, Carraway said.

"This is a generational event," Barry Ward, executive director of the nonprofit Trees for Houston, which supports forestry efforts, told Reuters on Tuesday. "Mature trees take 20 or 30 years to re-grow. This will make an aesthetic difference for decades to come."

He said the loss will affect the state in many ways. For example, there is increased fire danger because all the dead trees are now fuel, Ward said.

Scattered rain and snow has only recently put a dent in the historic drought. The one-year period between November 1, 2010 and October 31, 2011 was the driest in the state's history, according to State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon. Along with the drought has come punishing hot weather. The National Weather Service said the months of June through August in Texas were the hottest three-month period ever reported by any state in American history.

The drought and heat caused many trees to go into dormancy in the middle of the summer as a self-preservation measure, leaving them without adequate nourishment, said forester Clay Bales of the Texas Forest Service.

Officials say the dead trees include all types, from pine to deciduous trees, and the carnage is seen all across the state. […]

Texas drought kills as many as half a billion trees



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