As many as 500 million trees scattered across the Lone Star State have died this year as a result of the unrelenting drought, according to preliminary estimates from Texas Forest Service.
The numbers were derived by Texas Forest Service foresters, who canvassed local forestry professionals, gathering information from them on the drought and its effect on trees in their respective communities.
Each forestry expert estimated the percentage of trees in their region that have died as a result of the 2011 drought. That percentage was applied to the estimated number of trees in the region, a figure determined by the agency’s Forest Inventory & Analysis (FIA) program.
Using this approach, an estimated 100 million to 500 million trees with a diameter of 5 inches or larger were estimated to have succumbed to the drought. That range is equivalent to 2 to 10 percent of the state’s 4.9 billion trees.
Texas voters approved seven of ten proposed amendments to the state constitution Tuesday with just a little over 5% voter turnout statewide.
Lawmakers approved 10 changes to the Constitution during the legislative session, and the few voters who turned out approved all but three of them. The three included Props 4, 7 and 8 -- new bonding authority for counties, a conservation district in El Paso, and tax breaks for landowners who practice good water stewardship. Two more -- Props 2 and 6, authorizing water bonds and distributing more endowment money to schools -- got by with less than 52 percent of the vote.
In Brown County, 1,668 ballots were cast between Tuesday and the early voting period. Brown County saw about 7.55% turnout which is a little better than the state average.
Voters in the Brookesmith Independent School District ratified a property tax proposition with a 58-24 vote.
AUSTIN - During their regular monthly meeting Thursday, the Texas Transportation Commission selected Phil Wilson as the Texas Department of Transportation’s (TxDOT) 19th executive director, effective October 17, 2011. Wilson currently serves as senior vice president of public affairs for Luminant, an electric generation company headquartered in Dallas, and previously served as Texas Secretary of State.
As secretary, Wilson was responsible for elections and acted as the governor’s chief liaison on the Texas-Mexico border and issues with Mexico. He has also served as Chairman of the Governor’s Competitiveness Council, where Wilson helped identify ways the state could improve its economic position for continued long-term success. Wilson’s public service also includes time as an aide to U.S. Senator Phil Gramm and on the senior staff of Governor Rick Perry.
Dangerous wildfire conditions that have plagued Texas for nearly a year are expected to continue through the fall and possibly into the winter, according to a recent wildfire risk assessment report.
Texas remains mired in one of the worst droughts in state history and there appears to be little relief in sight, according to the Southern Area Fire Risk Assessment, which is calling for below average moisture and above average temperatures through the end of the year.
Compounding the problem, the relentless drought has left in its wake an overabundance of dead and drying vegetation including high-risk fuels like pines and junipers that burn intensely.
“With much of the state so critically dry, a wildfire could spread quickly — especially with the fall winds that will pick up as fronts move through the state,” Predictive Services Department Head Tom Spencer said.
Yesterday, Texas Forest Service responded to 19 new fires for 1,099 acres, including new large fires in Harrison and Rusk counties. In the past seven days Texas Forest Service has responded to 141 fires for 34,933 acres.
The latest drought monitor shows 95 percent of the state in extreme drought, with 81 percent in exceptional drought (the highest category). Seasonal outlooks continue to indicate drying throughout the fall, so the drought is expected to worsen. 250 of the 254 Texas counties are reporting burn bans.
Below is a list of selected changes to traffic and criminal statutes. Unless otherwise listed, all laws below take effect September 1, 2011. Please note that this is not a comprehensive list of all new laws passed by the Texas Legislature.
- Certain synthetic compounds deceptively labeled as “bath salts” and synthetic marijuana products (K2 or spice) have been added to Penalty Group 2 of the Texas Controlled Substances Act. (HB 2118, SB 331). Bath salts contain dangerous stimulants, and K2 mimics the effects of marijuana. Both have been sold in convenience stores and head shops, and have side effects that can be harmful and long-lasting.
- The electronic transmission or possession of visual material depicting a minor engaging in sexual conduct (“sexting”) has been added as an offense in the Penal Code. The penalty can range from a Class C misdemeanor to Class A misdemeanor, depending on the circumstances. This does not apply to minors involved in a dating relationship or spouses. (SB 407)
- The possession or use of tire deflation devices, commonly known as caltrops, for any purpose other than law enforcement use or as an antique or curio is prohibited. Criminal organizations have increasingly used caltrops as they attempt to evade apprehension, resulting in damage to patrol vehicles and innocent vehicles on the road. (SB 1416)
Texas motorists may notice some changes to speed limit signs in the next several months, as new laws regulating speed limits on the roadways of the state highway system begin to take effect.
The 82nd Texas Legislature passed and the Governor signed House Bill 1353, which takes effect on September 1. This legislation allows the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to create a 75-mile per hour speed limit on any state highway found to be reasonable and safe through a speed study. TxDOT will be reviewing existing 70-mile per hour speed limits to determine where a 75-mile per hour speed limit may be safely posted.
Thirty-two new Highway Patrol Troopers received their badges Friday morning during a ceremony at the LBJ Library Auditorium in Austin. The newly commissioned troopers will hit Texas roadways later this month.
"I congratulate the men and women of the 2011 Texas Department of Public Safety recruitment class. This group of highly-educated and professionally-prepared individuals has endured special training which will prepare them to serve one of the finest state law enforcement agencies in our nation. Texas will be safer because of their training, and I thank them for choosing such a challenging career," stated Sen. Tommy Williams, Chairman of the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee.
During the Independence Day Holiday, the Texas Highway Patrol will conduct focused DWI patrols in high-risk locations at times when alcohol-related crashes are most frequent. The enhanced patrols target impaired driving and are funded through a grant from the Texas Department of Transportation.
The increased patrols are scheduled for June 27 through July 6. All available DPS troopers will patrol during this time to keep the traveling public safer by keeping drunk drivers off the roadways.
“Highway travel increases during the Fourth of July holiday, and we want to make sure that everyone is driving sober and getting to their destinations safely,” said Chief David G. Baker, the DPS assistant director of the Texas Highway Patrol. “Anyone who plans on drinking, should also plan on having someone else drive them home.”