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Environment
A sawmill in Nacogdoches County

A sawmill in Nacogdoches County. Photo by Ron Billings, Texas A&M Forest Service.

Forests resources in Texas are abundant and diverse. Forest land covers roughly 38 percent of the state’s land area. According to 2017 figures from the Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA), there are over 63 million acres of forests and woodlands in Texas.

The principal forest region in Texas is called the East Texas Piney Woods, due to the abundance of pine-hardwood in the region. 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.

Following is a summary of the findings of the Forest Inventory of East Texas, completed in 2017 by the Texas A&M Forest Service (TFS) in cooperation with the USDA Forest Service Southern Research Station.

Timberland Acreage and Ownership

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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 had a decrease of 22.4 thousand acres between 2016 and 2017.

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.

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 3.5 million to 4.2 million acres, and family forest landowners account for 5.5 million to 5.8 million acres.

       Ownership Class                          Thous. Acres

       Private ................................................. 10,920.8
       Public:
           National forest...................................... 577.3
           Misc. federal......................................... 186.9
           State & local......................................... 236.9
       Total..................................................... 11,921.9

Forest Types

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-ashcottonwood, 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.

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 3.2 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.

    Forest Type Group                        Thous. Acres

      Southern Pine:
              Loblolly-shortleaf..........................5,375.0
              Longleaf-slash..................................108.6
      Oak-hickory...........................................2,746.2
      Oak-pine................................................1,378.9
      Bottomland Hardwood:
              Oak-gum-cypress..........................1,331.2
              Elm-ash-cottonwood........................560.0
      Other.........................................................422.1
      Total....................................................11,922.0

Timber Volume and Number of Trees

Based on 2017 Forest Inventory & Analysis Data, Texas timberland contains about 15 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 2016 and 2017, the inventory of softwood increased from 9.8 billion cubic feet to 10.3 billion cubic feet, while the hardwood inventory decreased from 5 billion cubic feet to 4.7 billion cubic feet. There are an estimated 7.2 billion live trees in East Texas, according to the 2017 survey. This includes 2.2 billion softwoods and 5.0 billion hardwoods. The predominant species are loblolly and shortleaf pine; 1.9 billion pine trees are found in East Texas.

Timber Growth and Removals

An annual average of 574.3 million cubic feet of growing stock timber was removed from the inventory, either through harvest or land-use changes. Meanwhile, 639.8 million cubic feet of growing stock were added to the inventory through growth each year. For pine, an average of 450.3 million cubic feet was removed during those years, while 568.7 million cubic feet were added by growth. For hardwoods, 124 million cubic feet were removed, while 71.1 million cubic feet were added by growth.

2017 Timber Harvest

Total Removals

Total removals of growing stock in East Texas in 2017, including both pine and hardwood, decreased 8.7 percent from 2016. The total volume of growing stock that was removed from the 43-county timber region was 481.5 million cubic feet in 2017, compared to 527.3 million cubic feet in 2016. 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 2017, the portion of the total removal that was subsequently utilized in the manufacture of wood products, totaled 415.1 million cubic feet for pine and 66.4 million cubic feet for hardwood. The pine industrial roundwood harvest was down 7.5 percent from 2016, and the hardwood roundwood harvest was down 16.2 percent. The combined harvest decreased 8.7 percent in 2017 to 498.8 million cubic feet. Top producing counties included Polk, Newton, Jasper, Harrison, and Angelina.

Total Harvest Value

Stumpage value of the East Texas timber harvest in 2017 was $244.8 million, an 18.3-percent decrease from 2016. The delivered value of timber was down 13.5 percent to $597.6 million. Pine timber accounted for 86 percent of the total stumpage value and 85.8 percent of the total delivered value.

Compared with 2016, the harvest of sawlogs for production of lumber decreased 7.4 percent in 2017 to 1.1 billion board feet. The pine sawlog cut totaled 1 billion board feet, down 6 percent from 2016, and the hardwood sawlog harvest decreased 23 percent to 73.1 million board feet. Newton, Polk, Angelina, Cherokee, and Jasper Counties 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 130.8 million cubic feet, a 0.2 percent decrease from 2016. Harrison, Polk, Angelina, Nacogdoches, and Panola counties were the top producers of veneer and panel roundwood.

Harvest of timber for manufacture of pulp and paper products decreased 15.1 percent from 2016 to 2017 to 2.3 million cords. Cass, Polk, Cherokee, Tyler, and Rusk counties were the top producers of pulpwood.

Other roundwood harvest, including posts, poles, and pilings, totaled 3.9 million cubic feet in 2017.

Import-Export Trends

Texas was a net importer of timber products in 2017. Total import from other states was 90.7 million cubic feet, while the total export was 60.9 million cubic feet. Texas mills utilized 87.8 percent of the timber harvested in the state in 2017. 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 2017, an increase of 2.3 percent over 2016. Production of pine lumber increased 3.1 percent to 1.4 billion board feet in 2017, and hardwood lumber production decreased 10.1 percent to 79.1 million board feet in 2017.

Structural Panel Products: Production of structural panels, including plywood and OSB, increased 10.5 percent to 2.4 billion square feet in 2017.

Paper Products: Production of pulp and paperboard products (includes fiberboard, paperboard, market pulp and miscellaneous products) totaled 2.4 million tons in 2017, up 2.9 percent from a year earlier. There has not been any major paper production in Texas since 2003.

Treated Wood: There was a 4.5 percent decrease in the volume of wood processed by Texas wood treaters in 2017 from 2016. The total volume treated in 2017 was 40.3 million cubic feet. Among major treated prodcts, lumber accounted for 61.1 percent of the total volume; crossties accounted for 14 percent; utility poles accounted for 9.2 percent.

Primary Mill Residue: Total mill residue, including chips, sawdust, shavings, and bark in primary mills, such as sawmills, panel mills, and chip mills, was 5.5 million tons in 2017. Eighty-nine percent of the residue was from pine species and 11 percent was from hardwood species. Chips accounted for 48.9 percent of mill residue, followed by bark (31.7 percent), sawdust (13.3 percent), and shavings (6.1 percent).

Reforestation

A total of 94,655 acres were planted during the winter 2016 and spring 2017 planting season. Industrial landowners, including acres planted by Timber Investment Management Organizations and timberland Real Estate Investment Trusts, planted 64,551 acres, up 1.7 percent from the previous season. The Family Forest owners planted 29,575 acres in 2016–2017, and public landowners planted 530 acres. Family forest owners received $1.8 million in costshare assistance for reforestation through federal costshare programs.

Fire Protection

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.

More information on state wildfire response, wildfire risk assessments, fire department assistance programs, and how homeowners and communities can reduce their wildfire risk is online at: (http://tfsweb.tamu.edu and http://ticc.tamu.edu).

Forest Pests

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, 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. There have been no confirmed cases of ash trees infested with the borer’s to date.

Urban Forests

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.

 

 

Sources: Texas A&M Forest Service, Texas A&M University System, http://tfsweb.tamu.edu; annual Harvest Trends reports, published by Texas A&M Forest Service.