By Michelle Werts

Matt Bonham, Texas AgriLife Extension Service assistant, checks out a red oak tree whose leaves are browning and dropping off early due to the drought. Credit: Robert Burns/Texas AgriLife Extension Service

Apparently, someone forgot to tell Mother Nature that you “Don’t mess with Texas.” First, there were the fires: 27,411 of them in 2011 through November 21 that destroyed almost four million acres. That’s 47 percent of the acreage burned by fire in the entire country for 2011. Almost 3,000 homes were ravaged along with nearly 3,000 other structures, and the damage from the Bastrop Fire alone equals $750 million, which made fire one of NOAA’s billion-dollar weather disasters in 2011. What a mess! And, sadly, Texas’ woes don’t end there.

Texas’ year-long drought is another one of those billion-dollar weather disasters — make that $10 billion so far. And no end is in sight, as climatologists reported last month that the drought will stretch into next summer. This is bad, bad news for living things in Texas: two-legged, four-legged, winged, rooted and more.

Between 100 and 500 million trees in Texas fell victim to the drought. That’s up to 10 percent of the state’s tree total! And as Katrina covered last week, this may just be a prelude to years of die-offs from the drought, as the damage to trees inflicted by droughts can have lasting consequences. In the immediate future, there is another concern: fire. That’s right, we’ve come full circle. Dead trees make good fuel for fire. Also, deeply affected is an area of trees known as Piney Woods, which is also one of the largest producers of wood and paper products. The extent of damage of the drought on that major employer isn’t known yet.

One industry that’s already feeling the heat is the ranchers. Last week, experts revealed that Texas’ cowherd has decreased by 12 percent since January. Many livestock owners have had to prematurely sell or slaughter their herd or send them out of state to try to survive. All of this equals millions, possibly billions, of dollars lost to the Lone Star State’s hardworking residents.

From fewer cows to dead trees to more dry-conditions to come, it’s a bit dismal for nature in Texas these days — and I haven’t even touched on the possible effects of the drought on the migrating monarch butterflies that traverse the state twice a year. While I wish X-Men’s Storm were real and could go conjure some rainstorms for Texas, alas she is not, so I’m going to go wish upon a star, send a letter to Santa, fight for the wishbone at my upcoming holiday dinner and use every other trick I know to ask for some rain to head Texas’ way because all of the creatures great and small down there need a break.

For those you living through the drought and trying to save your trees, check out this helpful video from the Texas Forest Service: