Your Official Texas Drought Carnage: 5.6 Million Urban Trees Killed

The Texas Forest Service has completed its latest update on the effects of the crushing drought, and it's somewhat hard to fathom: about 5.6 million trees in urban areas of the state fell victim to the lack of rain.

And they ain't done dying yet.

"This estimate is preliminary because trees are continuing to die from the drought," said Pete Smith, a TFS forester who led the count. "This means we may be significantly undercounting the number of trees that ultimately will succumb to the drought. That number may not be known until the end of 2012, if ever."

TFS rubs it in a bit when they describe what they counted as "urban trees": "The trees that line your street, shade your home and give you a quiet place to relax at your local park are all considered to be part of the urban forest," the agency said. And now they're gone.

The 5.6 million figure represents about 10 percent of the urban tree population. It would cost $560 million to get rid of the dead trees, and Pete Smith of TFS tells Hair Balls that is "a very conservative figure."

The study is "a snapshot in time" comparing year to year, he says, and it ended by early October. It may not be until the spring "green-up," he says, when TFS will get a better feel for the drought's effects.

"Some trees won't leaf out, or they will be on their last legs," he said.

Obviously the state has been getting more rain recently, but Smith says that the sudden change can also stress trees.

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