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Drought-stricken trees strain Longview's budget

By Sarah Thomas
Sept. 26, 2012 at 10 p.m.

The 2011 drought is wreaking havoc on the city of Longview's pocketbook - and its landscape.

Since Oct. 1, the City of Longview Parks and Recreation Department has spent $89,920 to remove 638 dead trees from parks, walking trails, cemeteries and other public property, said Laura Hill, director of community services.

"We have spent 220 percent over what is usually used annually to remove dead trees," Hill said.

She said there is no way to know how much more money the Parks and Recreation Department will have to spend on dead-tree removal; but, she said the department is prioritizing cases to make sure no one is injured and no property is damaged.

The removals also are prioritized based on the city budget.

Parks and Recreation's 2011-12 general operating fund is $6.047 million. A line item set up $94,268 to take care of trees and trash bins, according to Hill.

With the money already spent on tree removal this year, the department has $4,348 remaining before it must dip into other areas of the budget.

"We discover (dead trees) on a daily basis," Hill said.

Brad Smith, Texas A&M Forest Service fire analyst, said the problem is a direct result of the 2011 drought that plagued the state.

A forest service survey of hundreds of forested plots scattered across the state shows 301 million trees died in rural areas as a result of the 2011 drought.

The number, which does not include trees that died in wildfires, was determined by a study of on-the-ground tree health assessments collected during a three-month period earlier this year and satellite imagery from before and after the drought.

Smith said most of that is from lack of water, but some trees are dying because the drought left them susceptible to disease and insects.

"The bottom line is that the 2011 drought is killing trees," Smith said. "But some of the mechanics of drought weakens trees. Anytime you weaken a tree, you make it more prone to diseases and insects."

One such disease, hypoxylon canker, is a fungus that can easily infect the sapwood of a tree that has been damaged, weakened or stressed. The fungus does not attack healthy trees. Hypoxylon canker causes cankers and death in oak and other hardwood trees.

<strong>Staying busy</strong>

Ray Bostick, parks operating and maintenance manager, said hypoxylon canker is keeping his office busy.

"We've been inundated with trees that have been killed by the hypoxylon canker," Bostick said. "We've had to remove several hundred (trees) from Boorman trail and throughout our parks system."

He said his department is tasked with having to determine which trees must be removed first.

He said it comes down to whether the tree is threatening infrastructure or people.

"If it is in the woods away from traffic and won't hurt anyone or damage anything if it falls on its own, we leave it standing," Bostick said. "We are having to be really careful with the money that we use so we have it when we need it for those trees that are threatening life and infrastructure. We have to make it count."

Martha Jenkins, Park and Recreation's contract coordinator for mowing and trees, said her department is doing everything it can do to rid the parks and trails of any dangers from dead trees before winter arrives.

"Dead trees won't be as visible during winter because they lose their foliage," Jenkins said.

She said this year's tree removal has almost depleted the city's tree budget, adding that the cost of removal can be up to $2,500 per tree depending on its size and location.

" I usually don't keep up with how much is in the budget," Jenkins said. "This year it's like 'give me more money, give me more money.' "

Smith said Northeast Texas is fairing better than other regions in the state.

He said the damage from a drought is usually evident within the first year after that drought ends.

<strong>Long-term problems</strong>

Other than the time it takes for trees to grow back, Smith said he doesn't believe there will be any long-term effects.

However, other risks go up when trees die. If they are not removed, dead trees become fire hazards, Smith said.

He also said dead branches can break and fall on power lines during windy days.

"This can cause the lines to arc, and sparks can ignite dead material on the ground," Smith said.

But, he said, the saddest part may be the fact that some of the trees lost were hundreds of years old.

"You really can't replace that in our lifetime," he said. "The thing you have to remember about nature is when you create a hole in the forest because of dead trees, something will always grow in its place."

<h3>Dead trees by Texas region</h3> <table> <tbody> <tr> <td><strong>Region</strong></td> <td><strong>Live trees before drought</strong></td> <td><strong>Drought-related mortality</strong></td> <td><strong>% dead</strong></td> </tr> <tr> <td>Southeast-East</td> <td>597.1</td> <td>7.5</td> <td>1.3</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Southeast-West</td> <td>289.7</td> <td>18.8</td> <td>6.5</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Northeast-East</td> <td>356</td> <td>13.9</td> <td>3.9</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Northeast-West</td> <td>309.4</td> <td>25.3</td> <td>8.2</td> </tr> <tr> <td>North</td> <td>370.5</td> <td>30.9</td> <td>8.3</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Brazos Valley</td> <td>256.4</td> <td>24.9</td> <td>9.7</td> </tr> <tr> <td>South</td> <td>431.2</td> <td>31.7</td> <td>7.4</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Central</td> <td>1,540</td> <td>102.3</td> <td>6.6</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Panhandle</td> <td>556.3</td> <td>33.1</td> <td>6</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Trans-Pecos</td> <td>163</td> <td>12.2</td> <td>7.5</td> </tr> <tr> <td><strong>Total</strong></td> <td><strong>4,869.9</strong></td> <td><strong>300.6</strong></td> <td><strong>6.2</strong></td> </tr> <tr> <td colspan="4"><strong><em>Note:</em></strong> Longview is in the Northeast-East region. Live trees and drought-related mortality numbers represented in millions.</td> </tr> <tr> <td colspan="4"><strong><em>Source:</em></strong> Texas A&M Forest Service</td> </tr> </tbody> </table>



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