In Texas, the Grinch this year looks remarkably different from the hermit with green fur, red eyes and black boots who tangled with the residents of Whoville in the Dr. Seuss classic.
If you ask Texans what has been sucking the fun out of their holiday cheer, you’re bound to hear the same answer again and again: the drought.
In Texas, many lakes and streams are virtually empty, wildfires have burned nearly four million acres and the Texas economy is suffering. The agricultural impacts of this drought alone have attributed to an unprecedented $5.2 billion in losses for our state.
Tinsel Time Christmas Tree Farm near Houston is one of many tree farms in Texas that have experienced setbacks this year because of the drought and extreme heat. Late in the summer last year, the farm lost its entire crop of new saplings. And while the older trees managed to pull through, they were visibly stressed. “It takes up to five years for a tree to grow into a Christmas tree,” said Karen Barfield of Tinsel Time. “So we will have plenty of trees available for this holiday season, but the longer the drought continues, the more we may have to rely on importing trees from other states.”
Last year, the drought also fueled firestorms across the state, charring almost four million acres. The fires affected two-thirds of the Conservancy’s 33,000-acre Davis Mountains Preserve. Roughly half of the area normally used for the annual Davis Mountains Christmas Tree Hunt was burned in those fires.
But the Conservancy has been actively managing those forests with carefully prescribed burns for several years, so the disastrous wildfire effects seen in other parts of Texas didn’t occur at the Davis Mountains Preserve.
“When the fire hit the preserve, it decreased in intensity and stayed out of the tree canopies. While people may have to hunt a little harder this year, we’re confident they will still find their perfect tree,” said Chris Pipes, former Davis Mountains Preserve manager.
“The one silver lining of this heinous drought is that it has put an incredibly sharp focus on why it is so very important for us to protect the quality and supply of our water in Texas and manage our forests to reduce the risk of mega-fires like what we saw this summer,” said Laura Huffman, executive director of The Nature Conservancy in Texas.
The Nature Conservancy is working closely with legislators, communities and private landowners to protect clean, safe water supplies. “These efforts are better than buying an insurance policy for the future. They help guarantee our children's children will have clean, available water - something both need and frankly, deserve,” added Huffman.
Since 2008, the Texas chapter has also hosted annual fire training programs, which are attended by representatives from other Conservancy chapters, government agencies, state forest services and metropolitan fire departments from around the country. Groups have the opportunity to share resources and training methods for maintaining the viability and health of various ecosystems through prescribed fire in order to reduce the likelihood of dangerous wildfires.
So while the drought has taken its toll on Texas, it hasn’t diminished our holiday cheer. Take that, Grinch!