Forests resources in Texas are abundant and diverse. Forest land covers roughly 38 percent of the state’s land area. According to 2013 figures from the Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA), there are 62.6 million acres of forests and woodlands in Texas.
The principal forest region in Texas is the East Texas pine-hardwood region, often called the Piney Woods. The 43-county region forms the western edge of the southern pine region, extending from Bowie and Red River counties in northeast Texas to Jefferson, Harris, and Waller counties in southeast Texas. The counties contain 12.1 million acres of forestland of which 11.9 million acres are classified as productive timberland and produce nearly all of the state’s commercial timber.
Timberland Acreage and Ownership
Nearly all (11.9 million of 12.1 million acres) of the East Texas forest is classified as “timberland,” which is suitable for production of timber products and not reserved as parks or wilderness areas. Texas timberland acreage remained stable between 2012 and 2013. This is a result of a balance between new timberland acres coming from agricultural lands, which are either intentionally planted with trees or have naturally reverted to forest, and previous forested land that is converted to other uses, such as commercial or residential areas.
Ninety-two percent of East Texas timberland is owned by approximately 210,000 private individuals, families, partnerships, corporations, forest-products companies, and timber investment groups. The remaining 8 percent is owned by federal, state, and local governments. The following table shows acreage of timberland by ownership:
Ownership Class Thous. Acres
Private ................................................. 10,896.2
National forest...................................... 642.1
Misc. federal......................................... 162.4
State & local......................................... 205.8
East Texas has undergone major shifts in private ownership during the past decade, primarily a transfer of land from forest industry owners to non-industrial private owners. Information from several sources, such as the FIA, National Woodland Owner Survey, and timberland transaction records, suggests that the forest industry now accounts for no more than 50 thousand acres. Non-industrial private corporations, which include timber investment corporations, account for 3 million to 3.4 million acres, and family forest landowners account for 7.5 million to 8 million acres.
Six major forest types are found in the East Texas Piney Woods. Two pine-forest types are most common. The loblolly-shortleaf and longleaf-slash forest types are dominated by the four species of southern yellow pine. In these forests, the various pine trees make up at least 50 percent of the trees.
Oak-hickory is the next most common forest type. These are upland hardwood forests in which oaks or hickories make up at least 50 percent of the trees, and pine species are less than 25 percent. Oak-pine is a mixed-forest type in which more than 50 percent of the trees are hardwoods, but pines make up 25–49 percent of the trees.
Two forest types, oak-gum-cypress and elm-ash-cottonwood, are bottomland types that are commonly found along creeks, river bottoms, swamps, and other wet areas. The oak-gum-cypress forests are typically made up of many species including blackgum, sweetgum, oaks, and southern cypress. The elm-ash-cottonwood bottomland forests are dominated by those trees but also contain many other species, such as willow, sycamore, and maple.
Other forest types found in East Texas include small acreages of mesquite, exotic hardwoods, red cedar, and unproductive lands that are considered forested but do not meet stocking requirements. The following table shows the breakdown in acreage by forest type:
Forest Type Group Thous. Acres
Southern pine plantations, established by tree planting and usually managed intensively to maximize timber production, are an important source of wood fiber. Texas forests include 2.7 million acres of pine plantations, 63 percent of which are on industrially managed land, 34 percent on non-industrial private land, and 3 percent on public land. Genetically superior tree seedlings are usually planted to improve survival and growth.
Timber Volume and Number of Trees
Based on 2013 Forest Inventory & Analysis Data, Texas timberland contains about 17.3 billion cubic feet of timber “growing-stock” volume. One billion cubic feet of growing stock produces roughly enough lumber to build a 2,000-square-foot home for one out of every three Texans. Between 2012 and 2013, the inventory of softwood remained steady at 9.9 billion cubic feet, while the hardwood inventory decreased slightly from 7.9 billion cubic feet to 7.8 billion cubic feet.
There are an estimated 7.7 billion live trees in East Texas, according to the 2013 survey. This includes 2.2 billion softwoods and 5.5 billion hardwoods. The predominant species are loblolly and shortleaf pine; 2 billion pine trees are found in East Texas.
Timber Growth and Removals
Between 2008 and 2013, an annual average of 550.4 million cubic feet of growing stock timber was removed from the inventory, either through harvest or land-use changes. Meanwhile, 605.6 million cubic feet of growing stock were added to the inventory through growth each year.
For pine, an average of 420.6 million cubic feet was removed during those years, while 545.7 million cubic feet were added by growth. For hardwoods, 129.8 million cubic feet were removed, while 59.9 million cubic feet were added by growth.
Total removals of growing stock in East Texas in 2013, including both pine and hardwood, increased 1.1 percent from 2012. The total volume of growing stock that was removed from the 43-county timber region was 504.4 million cubic feet in 2013, compared to 498.7 million cubic feet in 2012. Included in the total growing stock removals are timber harvested for industrial use and an estimate of logging residue.
Industrial roundwood harvest in Texas in 2013, the portion of the total removal that was subsequently utilized in the manufacture of wood products, totaled 419.6 million cubic feet for pine and 102 million cubic feet for hardwood. The pine industrial roundwood harvest was up 2.6 percent from 2012, and the hardwood roundwood harvest was down 3.9 percent. The combined harvest increased 1.3 percent in 2013 to 521.5 million cubic feet. Top producing counties included Polk, Nacogdoches, Hardin, Newton, and Liberty.
Total Harvest Value
Stumpage value of the East Texas timber harvest in 2013 was $232.2 million, a 1.3-percent decrease from 2012. The delivered value of timber was up 3.2 percent to $574.6 million. Pine timber accounted for 78.4 percent of the total stumpage value and 77.9 percent of the total delivered value.
Compared with 2012, the harvest of sawlogs for production of lumber increased by 5.3 percent in 2013 to 1.1 billion board feet. The pine sawlog cut totaled 976 million board feet, up 4.9 percent from 2012, and the hardwood sawlog harvest increased 8.2 percent to 132 million board feet. Polk, Cherokee, Nacogdoches, Hardin, and Liberty counties were the top producers of sawlogs.
Timber cut for the production of structural panels, including both plywood and OSB (oriented strand board) and hardwood veneer, totaled 112.3 million cubic feet, a small increase from 2012. Nacogdoches, Polk, Houston, Cherokee, and Newton counties were the top producers of veneer and panel roundwood.
Harvest of timber for manufacture of pulp and paper products decreased 3.4 percent from 2012 to 2013 to 2.8 million cords. Cass, Hardin, Liberty, Polk, and Newton counties were the top producers of pulpwood.
Other roundwood harvest, including posts, poles, and pilings, totaled 2.9 million cubic feet in 2013.
Texas was a net importer of timber products in 2013. Total import from other states was 97.1 million cubic feet, while the total export was 58.8 million cubic feet. Texas mills utilized 88.7 percent of the timber harvested in the state in 2013. The remainder was processed mainly by mills in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma.
Production of Forest Products
Lumber — Texas sawmills produced 1.5 billion board feet of lumber in 2013, a increase of 8.2 percent over 2012. Production of pine lumber increased 7.2 percent to 1.4 billion board feet in 2013 and hardwood lumber production increased 18.2 percent to 140.4 million board feet in 2013.
Structual Panel Products — Production of structural panels, including plywood and OSB, decreased 1.5 percent to 2 billion square feet in 2013.
Paper Products — Production of paperboard totaled 2 million tons in 2013, down 1.8 percent from a year earlier. There has not been any major paper production in Texas since 2003.
Treated Wood — There was a 11.3 percent increase in the volume of wood processed by Texas wood treaters in 2013 from 2012. The total volume treated in 2013 was 40 million cubic feet. Among major treated products, lumber accounted for 67.4 percent of the total volume; crossties accounted for 16.4 percent; utility poles and fence posts each accounted for 10.4 percent and 4.8 percent, respectively.
Primary Mill Residue — Total mill residue, including chips, sawdust, shavings and bark in primary mills, such as sawmills, panel mills and chip mills, was 5.9 million tons in 2013, an increase of 7.3 percent from 2012. Eighty-three percent of the residue was from pine species and 17 percent was from hardwood species. Chips accounted for 48.9 percent of mill residue, followed by bark (32.5 percent), sawdust (12.8 percent), and shavings (5.8 percent).
A total of 139,070 acres were planted during the winter 2012 and spring 2013 planting season, a 52-percent increase over the 2011–2012 season. Industrial landowners, including acres planted by Timber Investment Management Organizations and timberland Real Estate Investment Trusts, planted 101,671 acres, up 54 percent from the previous season.
The Family Forest owners planted 39,527 acres in 2012–2013, and public landowners planted 872 acres. Family forest owners received $3.1 million in cost-share assistance for reforestation through federal cost-share programs.
During the 2012 fire season, Texas A&M Forest Service (TFS) and local fire departments responded to 13,238 fires that burned 159,455 acres and destroyed 77 homes. Wildfire suppression efforts were credited with saving 3,686 homes, along with other property and improvements, valued at more than $32 million.
In 2013, TFS and local fire departments responded to 12,306 fires that burned 69,499 acres and destroyed 47 homes. Wildfire suppression efforts were credited with saving 3,350 homes, property, and improvements valued at more than $58 million.
Texas has a tiered approach to emergencies, such as wildland fires, with response coming from local, district, state, and federal levels. When a fire surpasses the capabilities of local fire departments, the TFS steps in to help. On average, TFS personnel respond to 15 percent of the wildland fires that burn across the state; however, those fires burn 70 percent of total acres lost to wildland fires each year.
The southern pine beetle is the most destructive insect pest in the 12 million acres of commercial forests in East Texas. Typically, this bark beetle kills more timber annually than forest fires.
This destructive insect is currently at very low levels in East Texas. When outbreaks do occur, the Texas A&M Forest Service coordinates all direct control activity on state and private forestlands, including detecting infestations from the air, checking infestations on the ground to evaluate the need for control, notifying landowners, and providing technical assistance.
Recent efforts have focused on rating the susceptibility of pine stands to future southern pine beetle outbreaks, as well as prevention of infestations. Since 2003, the TFS has offered federal cost shares to private forest landowners in East Texas as an incentive to thin the young pine stands that are most susceptible to bark beetles. Thinning dense forests to promote vigorous tree growth is the preferred long-run method to reduce tree losses caused by bark beetles.
Extensive mortality of live oaks in Central Texas is caused by a vascular wilt disease called oak wilt. A suppression project, administered by TFS Forest Health personnel, assists affected landowners.
Invasive (non-native) insects, diseases, and plants are an increasing problem for Texas’ forest landowners. The soapberry borer, a wood-boring beetle introduced from Mexico, has killed western soapberry trees in some 50 counties in Central Texas. Invasive plants, such as Japanese climbing fern, Chinese tallow, and non-native privets, have also spread rapidly.
In 2012 and 2013, Texas A&M Forest Service, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, Sam Houston State University, and other collaborators, conducted a widespread detection survey for the emerald ash borer, a major pest of ash trees introduced from Asia. Fortunately, none were found in either years.
An estimated 86 percent of Texans live in urban areas, making urban trees and forests important.
Trees reduce urban heat island effect with shade and evaporative cooling; purify the air by absorbing pollutants, slowing chemical reactions that produce harmful ozone, and filter dust; reduce storm water runoff and soil erosion; buffer against noise, glare, and strong winds; and provide habitat for urban wildlife.
Source: Forest Inventory of East Texas, completed in 2013 by the Texas A&M Forest Service in cooperation with the USDA Forest Service Southern Research Station.