May 9 — Texas A&M Forest Service is helping restore the threatened, iconic Ponderosa Pine forests of West Texas.

    After a myriad of environmental stresses destroyed nearly 75 percent of the majestic Rocky Mountain Ponderosa Pine population in the Davis Mountains it became evident that reforestation efforts were needed.

    “Frankly, it broke my heart to see what was going on out there. It was just hundreds, if not thousands of acres of dead Ponderosa Pine, so I knew after that first visit we had to do something,” said Texas A&M Forest Service Associate Director Bill Oates.

    The Davis Mountains in far West Texas contain the southernmost stands of Ponderosa Pine in North America, but environmental stresses, initially a lack of soil moisture from devastating drought and extreme temperatures, coupled with secondary bark beetle invasion, have killed the majority of trees. In addition, wildfires in 2011 burned through some of the most productive stands. Environmental experts predicted that losses would continue if nothing was done.

    In 2014, Texas A&M Forest Service partnered with The Nature Conservancy to begin reforestation efforts on the Davis Mountains Preserve. Texas A&M Forest Service foresters assessed 18 stands and made recommendations, including to collect native seed for grow-out reforestation purposes, thin out overpopulated stands and collect baseline data to monitor the recovery process.

    “When you walk into a Ponderosa Pine forest and the Davis Mountains it has a different feeling from everything else around it,” said Charlotte Reemts, Research and Monitoring Ecologist at The Nature Conservancy. “You just feel that the place you’re in is special and we want to make sure that future generations have a chance to experience that same feeling.” 

    Between 2015 and 2016, Texas A&M Forest Service received a 3-year $200,000 grant from USDA Forest Service for initial forest stand assessments and management prescriptions. Stands were marked and baseline data gathered in preparation for the thinning of over 350 acres. Over 2,000 seedlings were planted in a site prep experiment, as well as areas outside of the pre-determined research sites. Scarification, removal of the pine needles and vegetation above bare mineral soil, was completed in an effort to give cones a better chance to take root.

    Foresters continually collect cones and have already gathered those to be planted in 2017 and 2018.

    Data shows that the current seedling survival rate, below 25 percent, is on par with average numbers from other Ponderosa plantings in New Mexico and Arizona. The biggest issue the Texas seedlings face is caused by gopher herbivory, as they eat the root systems of new, tender seedlings. However, large cone crops on remaining productive pines and removal of competing vegetation have opening up promising seedbeds.

    “I think the big rule of our agency is providing technical assistance, being able to do the right thing at the right time in the right way and this was not any different,” said Central Texas Operations Department Head Jim Rooni. “We were thrilled when the conservancy came to us.”

    Texas has 63 million acres of forestland that had a total economic impact of $32.5 billion and supported more than 144,500 jobs in 2015. Forests improve the quality of life for all Texans by providing environmental, social and economic benefits from decreasing soil erosion to producing goods we use on a daily basis. Texas A&M Forest Service works to keep our forests healthy. Because when forests are healthy, Texas is healthy.

    Visit  for a glimpse into the Operation Ponderosa project.


    Jim Houser, Regional Forest Health Coordinator



    Vanessa Martin, Associate Director, Marketing and Communications, The Nature Conservancy



    Texas A&M Forest Service Communications