Oak trees are not the most recognizable symbols of Hill Country, they are also invaluable to our native critters. With over 4 million acres of trees lost in Texas wildfires, the long term effects of this drought are becoming harder and harder to overlook. Oaks produce acorns that provide necessary nutrients for turkeys, wild hogs and other animals. Without the support of a thriving oak population, white-tailed deer, Hill Country’s favorite animal, are forced to look for food elsewhere, including urban areas. With little to eat, native animals are eating their winter stores, leaving them nothing to live on for the coming summer.
Without water, a tree’s ability to fight off disease is weakened. Oak wilt, caused by the fungus ceratocystis fagacearum can cause serious damage to native oak trees. In our oak trees vulnerable state, the occurrence of oak wilt in central Texas is on the rise in Texas. Other pests and diseases include oak leaf blister, powdery mildew and burls.
Just like us, trees need to be healthy and well nourished to heal from wounds and prevent infection. Trees have the ability to isolate injuries to support natural healing. As our oak population becomes weaker due to long term drought, malnourished trees are unable to isolate wounds to support the healing process. Cankers on wounded oak trees are becoming more common as pathogens invade wounds on the trunk and branches.
According to TPWD’s district leader at Possum Kingdom, Kevin Mote, the worst long term effects will be seen in degraded habitats. If soil remains dry for long periods of time, trees will experience die back and decline. Roots cannot supply enough moisture and nutrients to outlying branches and leaves and the tree’s extremities will simply die.
As we go through this drought together, keep in mind to conserve water and care for your environment. Tree care and maintenance can keep our natural habitat lush and thriving. Watch trees for signs of distress, and remember to water your trees on a regular basis. Trees are not only beautiful, but provide much needed sustenance for native wildlife. Our Texas wildlife is priceless and should be around for generations to enjoy.