Texas Drought Killed 301 Million Trees

Last year's drought killed 301 million trees. That's the final estimate from the Texas Forest Service after looking at satellite images and ground assessments of forested areas in the state.

Late last year, the Forest Service at Texas A&M estimated between 100 million and 500 million trees died during the drought.

But that was just an estimate.

Now, after months of scientific number crunching, the official dead tree count is 301 million in rural areas and 5.6 million in
urban areas.

Chris Edgar is an analyst with the Forest Service. He says satellite images indicate six percent of the overall canopy in Texas died from the drought.

"What we get from the satellite imagery is reflectants. So basically what it boils down to is how green is the area that the satellite is focused in on. And it's really changes in that greenness -- we had a lot of trees, as they get stressed they turn brown, therefore greenness in an area decreases."

They combine those changes in greenness with physical tree counts on the ground to arrive at the 301 million total. Edgar says the area with the most losses was the Brazos Valley region.

"The College Station/Bryan area and westward as you drive toward Caldwell County and Bastrop and those areas. And if anyone has driven through say Austin down to Houston and you've kind of driven through, you've probably noticed lots of dead trees."

Edgar says they estimate 25 million trees died from drought in that area, or nearly 10 percent of the canopy. That number does not include trees that burned up during the state's record-setting wildfires.

The region that suffered the least was Southeast Texas with the loss of just 1.3 percent of trees in that region.


Below is the drought assessment map from the Texas A&M Forest Service:

Drought study map

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Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...