Drought takes toll on urban forest, millions of shade trees dead
COLLEGE STATION, Texas — An estimated 5.6 million trees that once shaded homes, streets and parks in communities across Texas now are dead as a result of last year’s unrelenting drought.
The finding comes from a study conducted by Texas Forest Service urban foresters, who spent the last month surveying tree mortality in cities and towns across the state.
“This estimate is preliminary because trees are continuing to die from the drought,” said Pete Smith, Texas Forest Service staff forester and lead researcher. “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.”
Much like the drought, tree mortality isn’t always uniform and can vary from one yard to another.
The study conducted by Texas Forest Service — a member of The Texas A&M University System — focuses on tree mortality in the urban forest. The trees that line your street, shade your home and give you a quiet place to relax at your local park are all considered to be part of the urban forest.
Foresters studied satellite imagery taken before and during the drought, counting both live and dead trees in randomly selected plots on both public and private land.
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.
An estimated 5.6 million trees in urban areas were killed as a result of the drought. This figure may represent as much as 10 percent of the total number of trees that make up the urban forest.
Because these dead trees are in populated areas, many are a safety issue and will need to be removed. The estimated cost to remove these trees is $560 million.
Urban trees do more than just beautify your community. They also provide economic and environmental benefits like cutting your heating and cooling bill, cleaning the air you breathe and water you drink and boosting your property values. The estimated loss of economic and environmental benefits provided by these trees is roughly $280 million per year.