Forests resources in Texas are abundant and diverse. Forest land covers roughly 38 percent of the state’s land area. According to 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 12.0 million acres of forestland and 9.4 million acres of non-forest land.
Family forest ownership (non-industrial, private) in East Texas accounts for 6.0 million acres (50%). Forest industry owns 4.6 million acres (3.7%). The rest of the timberland in the east is owned by national forests (580,000 acres; 5%) and other public entities (427,000, 4%).
Five major forest types are found in the East Texas Piney Woods. Two are pine-forest types: loblolly-shortleaf and longleaf-slash. These 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. Loblolly-shortleaf forest is the predominate forest type in the area.
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.
Bottomland hardwood forests can include a variety of trees, including oak, gum, cypress, elm, and ash, and are commonly found along creeks, river bottoms, swamps, and other wet areas.
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.
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 Types in East Texas
|Forest Type Group||Area|
|Loblolly-shortleaf pine||5.5 million acres|
|Oak-hickory||2.6 million acres|
|Bottomland hardwood||2.2 million acres|
|Oak-pine||1.3 million acres|
|Longleaf-slash||0.1 million acres|
Timber Growth and Removals
Keeping track of growth and removals on timberland is extremely important as a measure of sustainability. On average, timberland annual net growth in East Texas is about 590.8 cubic feet. Removals of live trees in East Texas timberland is estimated to average 561.3 million cubic feet. Softwood represents 73 percent of that total. Annual growth exceeds removals by an average of 29.5 million cubic feet.
2019 Timber Harvest
Total volume of growing stock removed in 2019 was 542.9 million cubic feet, a 4.5 percent increase over the 519.7 million cubic feet removed the year before. The 2019 figure is comprised of 462.2 million cubic feet of pine and 80.8 million cubic feet of hardwood.
Industrial roundwood harvest in Texas in 2019, utilized in the manufacture of wood products, totaled 484.8 million cubic feet for pine and 81.3 million cubic feet for hardwood. The combined harvest of 566.2 million cubic feet was an increase of 4.8 percent over 2018. Top producing counties included Cass, Cherokee, Newton, Polk, and San Augustine.
Total Harvest Value
Stumpage value of the East Texas timber harvest in 2019 was $331.2 million, a 19.1-percent increase from 2018. The delivered value of timber was up 10.2 percent to $695.4 million. Pine timber accounted for 86 percent of the total stumpage value.
Compared with 2018, the harvest of sawlogs for production of lumber increased 1.4 percent in 2018 to 1.1 billion board feet. The pine sawlog cut totaled 1.0 billion board feet, and the hardwood sawlog harvest was 73.1 million board feet. Angelina, Cherokee, Jasper Newton, 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 169.2 million cubic feet, a 15.4 percent increase from the prior year. Cherokee, Harrison, Houston, Polk, and Trinity counties were the top producers of veneer and panel roundwood.
Harvest of timber for manufacture of pulp and paper products increased 0.3 percent from 2018 to 2019 to 2.6 million cords. Cass, Hardin, Jasper, Newton, and San Augustine counties were the top producers of pulpwood.
Other roundwood harvest, including posts, poles, and pilings, totaled 3.9 million cubic feet in 2019.
Texas was a net importer of timber products in 2019. Total imports from other states was 109.4 million cubic feet, while the total export was 52.4 million cubic feet. Texas mills utilized 90.7 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 sawmill production of 1.5 billion board feet of lumber in 2019 represents a decrease of 3.5 percent from 2018. Production of pine lumber decreased 2.7 percent to 1.4 billion board feet in 2019, and hardwood lumber production decreased 16.1 percent to 76.0 million board feet.
Structural Panel Products: Production of structural panels, including plywood and OSB, increased 14.3 percent to 3.1 billion square feet in 2019.
Paper Products: Production of pulp and paperboard products (includes fiberboard, paperboard, market pulp and miscellaneous products) totaled 2.4 million tons in 2019, down 9.6 percent from the previous year. There has not been any major paper production in Texas since 2003.
Treated Wood: There was a 13.4 percent decrease in the volume of wood processed by Texas wood treaters in 2019 from 2018. The total volume treated in 2019 was 33.7 million cubic feet. Among major treated products, lumber accounted for 58.5 percent of the total volume; crossties accounted for 12.5 percent; utility poles and pilings accounted for 11.3 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 5.7 million tons in 2019. Pine residue was 88 percent of the total and the rest was from hardwood. Mill residue was a combination of chips (48.9 percent), bark (31.7 percent), sawdust (13.3 percent), and shavings (6.1 percent).
Issues Facing Texas Forests
A total of 75,983 acres were planted during the winter 2018 and spring 2019 planting season. Industrial landowners planted 37,667 acres, a decrease of 49.7 percent from the previous season. Family forest owners planted 37,744 acres, and public landowners planted 572 acres. Family forest owners received $3.3 million in cost-share assistance for reforestation through federal cost-share programs.
Once a primarily rural concern, wildfires are now a threat statewide. Texas has seen significant fire seasons since 1996, some of which threatened or burned through small towns and cities and destroyed homes. The December 2020 Forest Action Plan, published by Texas A&M Forest Service, cites three factors that are intensifying the threat: population growth, changing land use, and increasing drought frequency.
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).
Although East Texas forests have provided jobs and economic growth for more than a century, the resource is coming under increasing pressure with changes in management and use of the piney woods. The forests are being impacted by residential development, ownership changes and parcellation, and population growth.
The woodlands in Central and West Texas are facing similar pressures, along with additional challenges such as wildfires, invasive plants, oak wilt, and other pests.
It will require partnerships and cooperation to protect these resources so that the high quality of life in these regions can continue.
Urban Forest Sustainability
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.
Texas has seen an increase of 4 million residents since 2010, resulting in rapid urbanization in some areas. That in turn has increased the pressure on the sustainability of treesand forests in urban areas.
Water Resource Protection
Did you know that almost half of Texas’ freshwater resources originate on forests? Covering about one-third of the state’s land area, those forests and woodlands are integral to keeping a stable supply of clean drinking water for Texans. When those lands are cleared for other uses, our water supply is adversely affected.
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.