Texas Forests Growing, Thriving, Making Huge Economic Impact


The Lost Pines at Bastrop State Park. Bastrop is a town outside of Austin, Texas. | Image by Tricia Daniel, Shutterstock

In the regions of East Texas, forests are growing strong and thriving, according to a press release last week from Texas A&M Forest Service. The Associate Director of the state agency, Bill Oates, shares that having healthy forests is not only beneficial for the environment but also provides jobs for Texans. 

The Texas forest sector supported more than 170,000 jobs and had an economic impact of more than $41 billion in 2021, according to the press release. The industry was among the top 10 manufacturing sectors in Texas for the same year.

Timber ranked seventh among Texas’ agricultural commodities.

The Texas A&M Forest Service Forest Analytics Department Head, Dr. Aaron Stottlemyer, said the growth of these forests will allow these industries to grow, too. 

“Texas is in a really good situation from a resource availability standpoint,” Stottlemyer shared in the press release. “There are clearly opportunities for increased development and greater utilization of the resource,” referring to Texas’ robust forest resources.

There has been a focus on improving the quality of the timber, according to Stottlemyer. 

“Over the last 20 to 30 years, there’s been a lot of focus on growing higher-quality trees,” Stottlemyer said. “Every year, we’re producing better and better trees that are growing faster.”

Over the past few decades, these East Texas forests have proven to be resilient, which is credited to multiple factors, including an absence of natural disasters and pests, tree improvement programs, and the modernization of sawmills in the state. 

Oates stated in the press release that all of these factors connect to producing overall healthier forests. 

“It’s all connected. We’re doing a better job with fire protection, with insect and disease protection, and with faster, better growth,” Oates said. 

Information regarding the number of trees and forests, and their size and condition, is gathered every year by the Texas A&M Forest Service. Since 2016, the data has shown that enough commercial lumber is produced in East Texas to completely fill a log truck every 19 seconds, according to the press release. 

“We’re constantly monitoring what’s happening. That’s how we know how much timber is growing versus how much is harvested,” Stottlemyer said. 

The last major damage seen to East Texas forests happened in 2008 from Hurricane Ike when around 450,000 acres were damaged. Hurricane Rita damaged about 770,000 acres in 2005, the press release shares. East Texas forests were also impacted by droughts in 2011 and the 2008 recession. 

Stottlemyer stated that since then there has not been major damage to forests, which he credits to the way the forests are managed. “A managed forest is more resilient. It’s those overly dense stands that are very susceptible to high winds and insects because those trees are stressed,” Stottlemyer said. 

The Texas A&M Forest Service Tree Improvement Coordinator and the Director of the Western Gulf Tree Improvement Program, Fred Raley, shared that improvements to forest management have enhanced the forest economy in the state. 

These improvements have allowed for growing more trees on more land and getting timber to the market sooner, according to Raley. 

The press release notes that the forest economy is “not without challenges,” however, “including an ongoing labor shortage that has contributed to a downward trend in harvesting.”

Texas Forestry Association Executive Director Rob Hughes said that the forest economy is also heavily tied to the family housing market, noting that “when the economy slows, as it is now, the demand falls for building products and subsequently timber from our forests.” The upside, according to Hughes, though, is the potential need for timber in commercial building markets.       



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