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A sawmill in Nacogdoches County

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

Texas has an abundance and a great diversity of forest resources. Forest land covers roughly 38 percent of the state’s land area. According to 2011 figures from the Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA), there are 62.4 million acres of forests and woodlands in Texas.

The East Texas pine-hardwood region, often called the Piney Woods, is the principal forest region in Texas. 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 2010 and 2011. 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 ................................................. 10,946.1
           National forest...................................... 653.0
           Misc. federal......................................... 157.9
           State & local......................................... 173.3
       Total..................................................... 11,930.3

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 3.0 million to 3.4 million acres, and family forest landowners account for 7.5 million to 8.0 million acres.

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 second 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 percent to 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:
      Bottomland Hardwood:

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 2.6 million acres of pine plantations, 62 percent of which are on industrially managed land, 34 percent on non-industrial private land, and 4 percent on public land. Genetically superior tree seedlings are usually planted to improve survival and growth.

Timber Volume and Number of Trees

Texas timberland contains about 17.5 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. The inventory of softwood increased slightly from 9.4 billion cubic feet in 2010 to 9.7 billion cubic feet in 2011. The hardwood inventory decreased slightly from 8.2 billion cubic feet in 2010 to 3.1 billion cubic feet in 2011.

There are an estimated 7.8 billion live trees in East Texas, according to the 2011 survey. This includes 2.2 billion softwoods and 5.6 billion hardwoods. The predominant species are loblolly and shortleaf pine; 2 billion pine trees are found in East Texas.

Timber Growth and Removals

Between 2006 and 2011, an annual average of 615.1 million cubic feet of growing stock timber was removed from the inventory, either through harvest or land-use changes. Meanwhile, 751 million cubic feet of growing stock were added to the inventory through growth each year.

For pine, an average of 483.3 million cubic feet was removed during those years, while 611.6 million cubic feet were added by growth. For hardwoods, 130.7 million cubic feet were removed, while 128.7 million cubic feet were added by growth.

2011 Timber Harvest

Total removals of growing stock in East Texas in 2011, including both pine and hardwood, decreased 3.7 percent from 2010. The total volume of growing stock that was removed from the 43-county timber region was 458.2 million cubic feet in 2011, compared to 476.1 million cubic feet in 2010. 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 2011, the portion of the total removal that was subsequently utilized in the manufacture of wood products, totaled 392.7 million cubic feet for pine and 78.6 million cubic feet for hardwood. The pine industrial roundwood harvest was down 2.1 percent from 2010, and the hardwood roundwood harvest was down 12.1 percent. The combined harvest dropped 3.9 percent in 2011 to 471.3 million cubic feet. Top producing counties included Jasper, Newton, Tyler, and Angelina.

Total Harvest Value

Stumpage value of the East Texas timber harvest in 2011 was $210.3 million, a 17.9-percent decrease from 2010. The delivered value of timber was down 8.3 percent to $505.5 million. Pine timber accounted for 81.3 percent of the total stumpage value and 80.7 percent of the total delivered value.

Map of County Timber Harvests

Harvest value in East Texas counties. Click to enlarge.

The harvest of sawlogs for production of lumber was down 0.3 percent in 2011 to 1.1 billion board feet. The pine sawlog harvest totaled 96.5 million board feet, down 2.2 percent, and the hardwood sawlog harvest increased 19.8 percent to 161 million board feet. Jasper, Tyler, Angelina, Hardin, and Polk 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 98.9 million cubic feet, a 1.7 percent decrease from 2010. Polk, Angelina, Cherokee, Trinity, and Walker counties were the top producers of veneer and panel roundwood.

The harvest of timber for the manufacture of pulp and paper products decreased to 2.3 million cords in 2009, a 10.4-percent reduction from 2010. Jasper, Tyler, Newton, Hardin, and Cass counties were the top producers of pulpwood.

Other roundwood harvest, including posts, poles, and pilings, totaled 2.5 million cubic feet in 2011.

Import-Export Trends

Texas was a net exporter of timber products in 2011. Total import from other states was 90.3 million cubic feet, while the total export was 59.4 million cubic feet. Texas mills utilized 87.4 percent of the timber harvested in the state in 2011. 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 2011, an increase of 10.2 percent from 2010. Production of pine lumber increased 10.1 percent to 1.3 billion board feet in 2011, while hardwood lumber production increased 10.9 percent, to 154.6 million board feet in 2011.

Structual Panel Products — Production of structural panels, including plywood and OSB, increased to 1.8 percent to 1.9 billion square feet in 2011.

Paper Products — Production of paperboard totaled 2 million tons in 2011. There has not been any major paper production in Texas in 2003.

Treated Wood — There was a 13.3 percent increase in the volume of wood processed by Texas wood treaters in 2011 over 2010. The total volume treated in 2011 was 44.3 million cubic feet. Among major treated products, lumber accounted for 58.1 percent of the total volume; crossties accounted for 17 percent; utility poles and fence posts each accounted for 8 percent and 3.6 percent, respectively.

Primary Mill Residue — Total mill residue, including chips, sawdust, shavings, and bark produced in primary mills, such as sawmills, panel mills, and chip mills, was 5.7 million short tons in 2011, an increase of 4.4 percent from 2010. Of this residue, 84 percent was from pine species and 16 percent was from hardwood species. Chips accounted for 50.5 percent of mill residue, followed by bark (29.9 percent), sawdust (13.7 percent), and shavings (5.9 percent).


A total of 87,887 acres was planted during the winter 2010 and spring 2011 planting season, a 6-percent decrease from the 2009–2011 season. Industrial landowners, including acres planted by Timber Investment Management Organizations (TIMOs) and timberland Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs), planted 59,554 acres, down 16 percent from the previous season.

The Family Forest owners planted 27,860 acres in 2010–2011, and public landowners only planted 473 acres. Family forest owners received $2.06 million in cost share assistance for reforestation through federal cost share programs.

Fire Protection

During the 2011 fire season, Texas Forest Service and local fire departments responded to 31,453 fires that burned 4,011,709 acres and destroyed 2,947 homes. This is a stark increase from the 2009 fire season, which totaled 17,488 fires that burned 726,502 acres and destroyed 436 homes. 

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.

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 but is expected to return to outbreak status. When outbreaks occur, the TFS coordinates all direct control activity on state and private forestlands. These activities include detecting infestations from the air, checking infestations on the ground to evaluate the need for control, notifying landowners, and providing technical assistance when control is warranted.

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 Pest Management personnel, provides technical assistance and education for affected landowners.

Invasive (non-native) insects, diseases, and plants are a problem for Texas’ forest landowners. The soapberry borer, a wood-boring beetle introduced from Mexico, has killed western soapberry trees in some 44 counties in Central Texas. Invasive plants, such as Japanese climbing fern, Chinese tallow, and non-native privets, have also spread rapidly.

Urban Forests

Because an estimated 86 percent of Texans now live in urban areas, urban trees and forests play an important role in their lives.

Trees reduce the urban heat island effect by shading and evaporative cooling. They also purify the air by absorbing pollutants, slowing the chemical reactions that produce harmful ozone, and filtering dust. Urban forests reduce storm water runoff and soil erosion, and they buffer against noise, glare, and strong winds, while providing habitat for urban wildlife.

Environmental benefits from a single tree may be worth more than $275 each year. The value to real estate and the emotional and psychological benefits raise the value of our urban trees even higher.

Source: Forest Inventory of East Texas, completed in 2011 by the Texas Forest Service (TFS) in cooperation with the USDA Forest Service Southern Research Station.