Texas Drought May Have Killed 500 Million Trees

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Forests are among the most long-established habitats on the planet, forming their delicately balanced ecosystems over centuries -- and a new study in light of Texas's ongoing drought proves how quickly they can be decimated. According to the Texas Forest Service, as many as 500 million trees in the state -- roughly 10 percent of the forests there -- have been killed within the last year alone as a result of 2011's bizarre lack of rainfall. To make matters worse, the massive die-off may just be the first in a long line as climatologists predict more severe drought to come as climate change worsens over the next century.

Forestry officials recently surveyed trees throughout 63 million acres of drought-riddled Texas and say what they found that months of record heat and stiflingly arid conditioned have left anywhere between 100 million to as many as half-a-billion trees dead. Texas Forestry Service directory Tom Boggus calls the findings "very shocking", adding that they've witnessed "a significant change in the landscape."

According to the American-Statesmen, the loss of plant-life in Texas due to the drought may be worse yet. The study did not factor in the millions of trees that perished due to drought-related wildfires, which, in 2011, were particularly damaging.

The survey is based on the collective reports of local forestry professionals who were asked to measure the drought's toll in their areas.

They were asked to focus only on trees that had died from the 2011 drought and exclude "background mortality" from earlier droughts or drought-aided diseases, such as oak wilt.

Only trees of 5 inches or more in diameter, the point at which saplings become trees, were counted.

While it may be too soon to tell what role climate change has had on this tree-killing drought, it already has surpassed previous records; experts say that the dry-spell is the worst to hit Texas since rainfall data was first collected in 1895. Climatologists have already warned of a lack of rainfall associated with the global warming phenomena, but perhaps never before has the scale of a damage that results been measured so close to home.

In light of the Forest Service's survey, and the economic hit suffered by Texas's lumber industry from the undeniably abnormal drought, state officials may have no other choice but to address climate change as a reality.

Tags: Drought | Texas

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