The Piney Woods
The Piney Woods ecoregion and its associated forested wetlands is made up of pine or mixed pine-hardwood forests interspersed with small farms and ranches. It occurs north of Houston and extends eastward to Louisiana and northward to Oklahoma and is higher in elevation that the Gulf Coast prairies and marshes.
Its ridges and upland areas are dominated by loblolly, shortleaf, and occasionally longleaf pines while its bottomland areas contain hardwoods such as oak, sweetgum, and elm. Where the Piney Woods ecoregion and the upper Texas Coast meet, coastal flatwoods and riverine forested wetlands occur. Flatwoods wetlands occur in low areas between the river floodplains, and are primarily replenished by rainfall. Riverine forested wetlands are in bottomlands along streams, and rely on overbank flooding to replenish their water supply.
Timber and cattle ranching are the main industries of this ecoregion. The beauty of this ecoregion makes it a population tourism destination for Houston.
Population growth from the Houston-Galveston metroplex has led to rapid urbanization of the Piney Woods in the southern areas of the ecoregion. Additionally, establishment of invasive species such as Chinese tallow and forest fragmentation into smaller and smaller patches threatens native wildlife species dependent on the Piney Woods ecoregion for all or part of their life cycle.
Forested wetlands are a rapidly disappearing type of wetlands in our region1,2. If all the trees are cut down in the wetlands, the fundamental ecology of the system is lost, even if the hydrology is not altered. However, use of sustainable silvicultural practices can result in preservation of forested wetlands and economically viable logging. An additional threat to riverine forested wetlands is alteration of natural water flows from dams and reservoirs. These structures prevent annual flooding of wetlands, which can dry out and alter their use, even becoming susceptible to development.
These wetland types can be seen in northern Harris County, Montgomery County, San Jacinto County, Liberty County, Chambers County, Jefferson County, Hardin County, Orange County, Jasper County, Polk County, Tyler County, and Newton County.
1. Houston Area Freshwater Wetland Loss, 1992-2010 by Texas AgriLife Extension Service and Texas Sea Grant
2. Texas Coastal Wetlands: Status and Trends – Status and Trends, Mid-1950’s to Early 1990’s by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and US Fish and Wildlife Service