Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

Local News

August 8, 2011

Drought 2011: Timber industry faces long-term losses

JACKSONVILLE — (Editor’s note: This is the sixth in a series of stories looking at the cause and impact of the Drought of 2011.)

Trees. The word is almost synonymous with East Texas.

Stately piney woods and lush vegetation are constants in the area – until this year.

Even the trees are feeling the effects of the worst drought Texas has had in years.

Texas Forest Service Entomologist Joe Pase said drought-stressed trees may exhibit signs of decline.

Local forester James Houser said our local trees are showing those signs.

“We’re getting a lot of calls from people who think their trees are dying. The leaves are turning color. It looks like they’re dying but they’re really going dormant,” he said. “All the trees are stressed.”

Texas AgriLife Extension Agency literature about the effects of the drought on trees states that severe stress due to lack of moisture can injure trees.

“In addition, stressed trees are more vulnerable to insect and disease pests when compared to a healthy tree,” it states.

And with the hot and dry weather comes the ever constant worry about fire.

“Fire danger is the other thing that concerns us,” Houser said.

Thousands of acres of Texas have been damaged by wildfires since the drought began.

“The lost timber volume could have been used to produce forest products such as lumber, plywood and paper products worth a total of $53.5 million,” said Chris Edgar, a forest resource analyst with Texas Forest Service. “That level of forest industry economic activity could have supported a total economic activity in East Texas of $92.7 million.”

Nearly every county in Texas is under a burn ban in an effort to protect not only people and property, but also the resources that normally seem inexhaustible.

The Texas Forest Service recently produced two public service announcements featuring retired baseball pro Nolan Ryan and Texas Agricultural Commissioner Todd Staples asking Texans to watch not only for the signs of forest fires, but to watch for those who may start one.

The hot, dry conditions seem to have caused an influx of supply in the timber industry, though. Houser said currently there is an abundance of timber in the market.

“The mills are full of wood because you can harvest anywhere because so dry,” he said, adding that winter is when prices spikes.

He said currently in the northwest, there is a bit of a vacuum in the market because that area is exporting timber to China, but timber supplies are filling the void the exports have left.

The real concern in the industry is not immediate, though. It is the long-term effects that have many in the timber industry worried.

“The real problem we have are with the seedlings – they’re all dying,” Houser said. “East Texas plants about 100 million seedlings every year. We’re going to lose all of those.”

He said it takes about 15 years for a tree to go from seedling to maturity when it is ready to be harvested.

“This whole year is a loss,” he said. “We’ll have a whole year where we won’t have any trees we can harvest because of the losses.”

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