East Texas continues to battle the effects of last year's extreme drought conditions and wildfires. State officials say the historic drought brought death and destruction to the timber industry. Now, timber companies are scouring the region, trying to salvage what's left of the dead and dying trees.
"I've been in this business 33 years and probably that last 18 months have been the worst I've seen," said Jimmy Rushing, a forester with Ward Timber in Linden. "We're battling the effects of the housing market, we're battling high fuel costs, high equipment costs, high insurance costs, it's been a struggle."
Texas Forest Service officials say during last year's drought, more than 150,000 acres of forestland was burned by wildfires, causing an estimated loss of up to 500 million trees. Now, a year later timber companies say they're still trying to recover from the fires and a depressed market. Several companies are sending lumberjack crews throughout the East Texas region to literally cut its losses and salvage the dead and dying trees.
"We deal with dead wood everyday," said Rushing. "We can still utilize some of that, it's just kind of a tree by tree basis because they didn't all die at the same time. We're going to be seeing this years from now."
Many trees that never fully recovered from the drought are slowly dying due to being attacked by diseases. Timber companies say they have no choice but to cut down the trees now before they become unsalvageable. But that creates more supply where there is little demand, as the damaged wood is used for low end products. Still, companies believe the industry will sprout better business in the future.
"We have good stewards of the land and there are people that are managing their wood and so the future is not bleak for the industry, if we can get the economy to turn around and use what we produce. Our whole business has compressed, but I think we're strong enough to come back."