Blog

January 01, 2017

Juniper Update: Niche market development for Western Juniper

By Renee Magyar, Communications Director, Sustainable Northwest

As printed in the Winter 2017 issue of Northwest Woodlands Magazine.

In the late 1800s, pioneers that arrived to settle in central and eastern Oregon, southeast Washington, northern California, and southwest Idaho saw a very different landscape than the one we know today. Rolling grasslands and sagebrush steppe provided adequate breeding habitat and forage for wildlife species like mule deer and sage grouse. Only the occasional Western Juniper tree was visible on the ridgelines.

Following this time, a period of overgrazing of domestic livestock compounded by federal fire suppression policies allowed the tree to thrive. Western Juniper (Juniperus occidentalis) is a natural survivor and is well adapted to the high desert. Wildfire is its only natural predator, and without a regular fire cycle to clear out new seedlings, its presence has increased exponentially over the past 150-180 years from its historic recorded range of 1 million acres to nearly 9 million acres today.

New studies of sage grouse are showing the impact of juniper encroachment on nesting behavior. Predators perch on juniper, and researchers from University of Idaho and the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS)-led Sage Grouse Initiative found that hens avoided nesting where conifer cover exceeded 3% within 800 meters of their nests. Due to a significant decrease in habitat, in 2015, the bird came close to being added to the threatened or endangered species list.

Juniper also has a significant impact on soil moisture and groundwater. Long-term hydrological studies being performed in the Camp Creek Watershed, about 60 miles southeast of Prineville, Oregon, show an average 3 to 4 gallons per minute return of spring flow outputs after juniper removal. In the 60-day dry season, that adds up to nearly 260,000 gallons of additional water that is available for livestock, fish, or plant growth along the stream channel.

Western juniper is considered a native invasive, and there is widespread agreement that juniper needs to be thinned for grassland and hydrological benefit, wildfire risk reduction, as well as species diversity. However removal of acres of juniper is a costly endeavor in the absence of a commercial market for the wood.

For decades, there had been interest in developing a market for juniper to help fund landscape restoration work, but past efforts were unsuccessful. Landowners recognize that cost share dollars from state and federal agencies like Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board or NRCS that are used to fund juniper removal projects could be at risk of drying up, or are generally insufficient to treat all the acres of juniper. The common belief was a robust market could supplement or ultimately replace the need for public funding.

In 2011, the steering committee of Oregon Solutions, a state-backed organization that develops collaborative triple bottom line solutions to community-based problems, sought to reinvigorate interest in a juniper market. They saw the opportunity to educate consumers by rebranding products as sourced from “restoration juniper”.

Discussions kicked off an assessment of the current status of juniper in Oregon and the perceived challenges and opportunities to successful utilization of the available resources. The main issues and challenges identified were supply, technical information -- specifically the inventory of trees across eastern Oregon -- and the need for products and market development. They involved the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Association of Oregon Counties in the discussions, which culminated in an Oregon Solutions project designation by former Oregon governor John Kitzhaber in August 2012. With this, the Western Juniper Utilization Group (WJUG) as it was initially dubbed -- a unique and cohesive partnership of state and federal agencies, academics, wood products businesses, non-profits, landowners, and funders -- was formed. One year later, the 29 WJUG member groups signed onto a Declaration of Cooperation agreeing to create a scaled-up juniper restoration economy, and recommend solutions to key technical, social, and policy barriers through this shared commitment.

Sustainable Northwest was selected to house the project and act as the coordinating hub for the group, renamed the Western Juniper Alliance (WJA), as well as take lead on fundraising and policy advocacy for the initiative. To date, nearly $2 million has been raised for market and supply chain coordination, business development, product promotion, and research and development.

Part of these state and federal dollars are funding a study of lumber grades and engineering design values of Western Juniper. The lack of published data on these values up to this point has stunted market development efforts, as public and private engineers and architects looking to use the wood for structural applications are often forced to specify other wood species for which technical data are available. The study is currently underway at the OSU Oregon Wood Innovation Center. Mechanical property testing of the wood was completed in September of this year, and results are expected in the coming months.

The balance is going to training programs for workforce development, technical and business assistance, a mapping analysis to identify the supply of juniper and inform future public and private land management needs, a loan and grant program called the Western Juniper Industry Fund that provides investment and working capital for juniper business expansion projects, and ongoing support of the WJA. This project was funded in part through two complementary bills that passed the Oregon state legislature in July 2015, an effort that was highlighted at the 2014 Oregon Business Summit. As a result of this funding, two new juniper milling businesses have started up, with more in development.  

In 2014, the primary focus of the WJA was to grow market demand. Sustainable Northwest launched a brand and marketing campaign to build more market awareness and increase demand for juniper products. The heartwood is valued for its chemical properties that make it highly durable and resistant to rot or insect infestation, and a suitable local alternative to cedar, redwood, or pressure treated wood. Since the wood was primarily being used in outdoor applications in Oregon and Washington, the demand during the rainy winter season slowed. Suppliers and distributors saw the need to expand beyond the Pacific Northwest to markets with year-round application. California was the obvious next step for distribution, and sales there are growing. Sustainable Northwest Wood, a subsidiary wood warehouse business of Sustainable Northwest, has filled an important gap in the demand market by providing distribution and market outreach. By reaching out to new audiences like home and garden landscapers, organic vineyards and wineries, and home furnishing showrooms, they are educating consumers about the benefits of the wood and the benefits of harvest. Sales of juniper have grown 50% in the last two years, and that increase is projected to continue. 

Two years later, the challenge is consistent supply; a critical issue that has been identified as a factor in juniper market development for decades. The irony is there are millions of acres of juniper ready to be cut for restoration projects, however experts estimate only 10% of the trees are suitable for milling. Old growth trees are off limits for harvest, and the remaining distribution of suitable trees is widespread across the vast area. Landowners also often rely on state and federal funding to manage juniper on their properties, and those that do are not always aware of market opportunities to remove saw logs.

Climate has also played a significant role recently in available supply. Last year, eastern Oregon experienced compounded difficulties that proved to be the final straw for one Oregon juniper miller who went out of business because he wasn’t able to procure logs. A long fire season and the subsequent pine salvage operations had loggers and trucks tied up in the fall, and a prolonged wet winter prevented trucks from accessing juniper on public and private roads.

The supply shortage affects the logger as well; if he isn't able to sell logs to a miller, he's not able to pay his fuel and equipment bills. This has become a circular problem the WJA is trying hard to address. In fact, the problem has been discussed so much that some Alliance members are tired of hearing the “chicken and egg” metaphor used to describe the situation: loggers need a dependable number of millers to sell to before they can grow their numbers, and millers need a dependable number of logs from loggers before they can grow their businesses.

To overcome these barriers, Sustainable Northwest will be hiring a part-time forester to coordinate the supply chain and ensure a consistent flow of material from landowners to the mills. They will identify current and upcoming harvest operations, broker log agreements, and connect all the relevant parties to increase capture of logs from restoration activities. Doing so will retain and create manufacturing jobs and provide greater confidence to distributors as they seek to grow the market in new states and sectors.

Juniper is a specialty species that defies the conventional lumber manufacturing model used to produce and sell commodity products like fir or pine. The tree grows with gnarled, twisted trunks and branches, and deeply grooved bark and dense knots, making it very difficult to mill, with a lot of bark-embedded waste material that is not suitable for common byproducts like chips for paper or particle board.

However, for many of the same reasons the wood is hard to work with, it makes for a beautiful product for those who can successfully tackle the challenge of milling it. Its warm tones, alluring scent, and unique shapes and textures lend itself well to rustic furniture designs and attractive features in finer grade lumber. In addition to exterior landscape and decking products, builders are also sourcing for new uses like interior cabinetry and paneling, countertops, and flooring.

Juniper is unlikely to become a commodity product due to the challenging nature of the milling and the low yield from juniper woodlands compared to traditional forests. To make a viable juniper market at a quasi-craftsman-industrial scale that supports restoration activities will require a strong business sense on the manufacturing side.  In most cases, the complexity and challenge of coordinating everything from raw material, to marketing, state and federal regulations, employee relations, state employment divisions, workforce compensation, unemployment claims, and a reliable supply chain, all while running day-to-day manufacturing operations is overwhelming for some small businesses.

The BLM Boise Idaho District is also seeking a local market for early phase juniper to help incentivize further sage grouse habitat restoration projects, and utilize trees that are currently being burned in slash piles. They have a working group in place to look at potential methods of harvest that would make it economical for market and attractive to potential juniper business investors. However, the role the BLM can play is limited. They need a local champion to drive the market development, and right now progress is stalled. The BLM sees the progress Oregon has made, and is optimistic that juniper biomass energy development could work in Idaho if the processing of feedstock can happen locally. The engineering design values study shows a promising potential niche market for them as well; the Idaho Department of Transportation has expressed interest in the idea of juniper road sign posts. If projects pencil out economically, the BLM is optimistic that Owyhee County could get behind a juniper market.

Despite the variety of challenges to market growth in Oregon, stakeholders remain persistent in their efforts, emboldened by progress on the near horizon. Supply chain coordination is underway. Biomass energy products are in development that may broaden the market for non-millable juniper. And state procurement of juniper for roadway signs and guardrail posts are poised to take off once the engineering values results are published. With all of these pieces in place, there is a sound model for a juniper market that other states can replicate, for the benefit of the land, the wildlife, and the people. 

RENEE MAGYAR serves as Sustainable Northwest’s communications director. She can be reached at 503-221-6911 ext. 116 or rmagyar@sustainablenorthwest.org
December 20, 2016

Where to Buy Juniper Lumber

By KC Eisenberg

So you've decided to use juniper lumber for your landscaping projects. Good choice! You may have heard about juniper's legendary rot resistance or seen photos of its beautiful grain patterns and warm color tones.

Here's an interactive map that shows where to buy our juniper landscaping timbers. This map shows all of our current dealers in Oregon, Washington, and California.

If you're in an area outside the regions covered by this map, please let us know and we can discuss ways to get you the wood you need.

December 20, 2016

Project Profile: Custom Oregon White Oak Casework

By KC Eisenberg

A recent office remodel in downtown Portland was designed with elaborate custom casework that called for one-of-a-kind oak panels. The project architect wanted to use a locally-grown wood that would reflect a sense of place and add warmth and visual appeal to the space.

We were pleased to supply custom panels and slabs of solid Oregon white oak, milled to precise specifications, for the casework, interior panelings, and other office furnishings.

The results are stunning: Modern yet warm, inviting, and reflective of the special personality of the oak selected for the project!

More photos are available here.

December 13, 2016

Forward Together

By KC Eisenberg

As political bickering divides our nation, we at Sustainable Northwest Wood feel it is now more important than ever to honor the multitude of values that bind us rather than the handful of issues upon which we disagree. 

We are fortunate to work closely with two different, yet not entirely dissimilar, communities. Each day we work with lumber producers from small rural communities far from urban centers. Each day we also work with contractors, homeowners, and woodworkers in urban communities all over the region, and the country. It is through our work with these diverse groups that we are reminded of all that we have in common and all of the goals we share with our fellow citizens, both rural and urban. 

Many of the products we offer are shining examples of urban-rural collaboration. Juniper is one such example: The juniper industry is made possible through the hard work of ranchers, loggers and millers in the Eastern half of our state, but most of its users live in big cities, in Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. 

At Sustainable Northwest Wood, we understand that this widespread urban support of triple-bottom-line products sourced through rural producers is how we rebuild our rural economies. It is how we heal the wounds caused by job loss, industry attrition, and the other undesirable effects and unintended consequences of a globalized world. We look forward to expanding urban-rural collaboration in the coming years.

We are proud to stand in the "radical middle," working hard to support our rural producers, to provide quality service and products our urban customers, and to celebrate our shared goals and successes. 

The way forward is together. Please join us.

November 02, 2016

Hey California! Juniper timbers now available in LA

By KC Eisenberg

Great news for gardeners and landscapers in Southern California: Jones Lumber in Lynwood is now stocking our Restoration Juniper landscaping timbers! Stock up here for all your raised garden beds, retaining walls, and other landscape projects.

Juniper performs exceptionally well outdoors and will last longer in ground-contact applications (30+ years!) than any other Pacific Northwest native species, including cedar and redwood. It is also a great substitute for chemical-laden pressure treated wood, making it an ideal wood to use for raised garden beds, retaining walls, trellises, arbors, and other installations.

Our Restoration Juniper is sourced from grassland restoration projects throughout the high deserts of the West. Juniper is a native species, but decades of wildfire suppression have allowed it to take over what was formerly a grassland ecosystem. Its out-of-control population growth and thirst for limited water supplies lead to erosion and a loss of biodiversity.

Many acres of juniper are now being cut as part of a collaborative program to restore the grasslands, the groundwater supplies, and the habitat of critical species including the sage grouse. 

Jones Lumber is stocking the following Restoration Juniper products:

  • 2x6x8 surfaced lumber
  • 2x6x8 rough lumber
  • 4x4x8 rough timbers
  • 6x6x8 rough timbers
Click here for a map of of our juniper dealers, including Jones Lumber.

Click here for more information about juniper, its exceptional durability, and its special story.


October 27, 2016

What is the best wood to use for retaining walls?

By KC Eisenberg

Wood retaining walls provide structure, stability, and natural beauty to gardens and landscaping projects. They continue to be a popular choice because of the natural look they provide and because of their low price point, relative to expensive masonry and concrete retaining walls.

But there are so many options for choosing what wood to use for retaining walls. You know you want something durable, affordable, and non-toxic. But what?

Wood retaining walls must be:
  • Chemical free, not soaked in creosote or pressure-treatment chemicals
  • Extra durable in ground-contact settings
  • Non-toxic alternative to carcinogenic railroad ties
  • More affordable and longer lasting than cedar or redwood ties
  • Responsibly sourced
  • Beautiful!

Luckily, we have the perfect solution that fulfills all these criteria: our Restoration Juniper landscaping timbers.

Chemical-free: These untreated, completely natural timbers are ideal replacements for creosote-laden railroad ties and pressure-treated wood.

Extra durable: Juniper gets its remarkable durability from a high content of aromatic compounds that make the wood resistant to microbial decay for many decades. Juniper can last up to 30+ years in ground contact settings, according to studies from Oregon State University.

Affordable: Our juniper landscaping timbers are also far more affordable than using cedar or redwood, other long-lasting species that come with a high price tag. In fact, juniper lasts far longer than these species -- providing a lot more bang for your landscaping buck.

Responsibly sourced: Restoration Juniper landscaping timbers are sourced from grassland restoration projects in the high deserts of the West. Juniper is a native species, but decades of fire suppression and the unintended consequences of livestock grazing have allowed this species to grow unchecked, claiming millions of acres of sagebrush steppe and turning it into dense woodlands. These juniper woodlands suck up groundwater and are contributing to the decline of several key species, including the sage grouse. A collaborative group involving ranchers, loggers, environmentalists, and state government agencies is working together to harvest juniper trees, restore the grassland ecosystem and water supplies, and build a market for the wood. Your purchase of juniper lumber supports this effort.

Beautiful: Juniper also provides a rustic, organic look that is perfect for modern gardens and landscape design. 

Please contact us to learn more about Restoration Juniper for retaining walls and other exterior uses.

Photos, from top: A recently-constructed residential retaining wall built with 6x6 juniper landscaping timbers shows juniper's rich colors and grain patterns; steps and a small retaining wall built out of 5x5 juniper timbers show off the silver patina that will develop over the years if the wood is left unstained; a large retaining wall built with 6x6 timbers stands at the University of Washington-Tacoma (photo credit Place Studio).


September 27, 2016

Local manufacturer Indow learns how FSC wood helps reduce costs

By KC Eisenberg

When most people think of Indow, they think of energy-efficient thermal window inserts, not lumber. But Indow uses a lot of wood to carefully crate their window panels for shipment across the country. 

Indow is a Portland-born manufacturer of lightweight, attractive acrylic window inserts that homeowners can self-install to add energy efficiency and noise insulation in their homes. Indow's mission is helping people achieve environmental and financial harmony, reducing carbon emissions while reducing expenses. So they totally understand the benefits of FSC forestry

The wood that Indow was previously using was low-quality, splitting at the ends and generating a lot of useless waste. It was of dubious origin and had no environmental certifications. Dissatisfied, Indow decided to find a better solution that more closely aligned with their mission and values. They reached out to us to see how we could help. 

We partnered with our friends at Collins to find a higher-quality wood product with FSC certification. We now supply Indow with FSC certified Sugar Pine, sourced from a regional forest, in a higher grade, at an even better cost.

Indow now uses wood that matches their values of local manufacturing and environmental stewardship, and they're saving money doing it. We can call this a win-win-win.

August 02, 2016

New Plank-Style Solid Wood Surfaces

By KC Eisenberg

We're loving all the butcher block-style solid wood countertops that are showing up in kitchen and bath projects. Wood surfaces add warmth and texture, and so much color

Plank-style surfaces are another way to add warmth and texture, but show off more of the unique grain patterns and figuring that make each type of wood special. The plank-style tops are made with much wider pieces of wood, up to 8" wide; butcher block is traditionally made of thinner staves, smaller than 1 1/2" wide.

Plank-style tops really highlight the beauty, color, and grain patterns of our local wood species. Check out the options below, shown clockwise from top left: FSC Douglas Fir, Pacific Madrone, Tanoak, and our Willamette Valley Walnut.

We can craft these surfaces in any of our local wood species, and in any custom size to fit countertops, table tops, island tops, or other creative applications. Please contact us for pricing information.


July 25, 2016

What is the best finish to use for butcher block countertops?

By KC Eisenberg

Butcher block and wood solid surface countertops are a popular choice for kitchens and bathrooms these days. And for good reason: The wood adds warmth, texture, and natural beauty to the space in a way that other materials just can't.

But wood needs to be well protected to keep water and wine from staining or damaging it. There are, of course, many products available to help complete this task. So many products. Too many products! 

We break down the pros and cons of some of the most common choices.

Poly Vs. Oil

Polyurethane is a liquid coating that dries into a plastic film. This is great for sealing the countertop, but then there's a layer of plastic between you and your pretty new wood. Also, poly finishes generally have to be removed entirely before any scratches or worn spots can be repaired. Yes, the countertop will need to be sanded entirely clean before any new finish can be reapplied. Ugh!

Oil finishes penetrate down into the wood, bringing out the color and luster of the wood, and allow you direct contact with the warmth and distinctive texture of the wood. Oil finishes can also be spot-repaired without sanding the entire surface -- a huge benefit -- but they will likely require more frequent maintenance than poly finishes, especially in high-impact areas like around sinks or in food prep zones. 

We generally recommend a natural oil finish for the butcher block tops we sell to homeowners due to the ease of application and maintenance. We sell the full line of Rubio Monocoat products and can include them with your butcher block order. Contact us to get pricing for your butcher block project, and check out the full line of standard and custom butcher block options that we offer, all made with locally sourced, sustainably harvested Northwest wood species.

What product to choose? 

We've used lots of products over the years on our samples and displays, and we've polled our woodworker clients on their top choices. We generally recommend modified natural oil finishes for our solid surface and butcher block products because of the ease of application and maintenance. Here are some of the common choices, and the pros and cons of each:

June 20, 2016

Whole-Log Design: Making Use of the Entire Tree

By KC Eisenberg

In Portland, we hear a lot about nose-to-tail cooking, a movement which strives to use every edible part of the animal, not just the prime cuts. We're interested in expanding this concept to lumber products: finding uses for less-than-premium cuts of wood as a way to minimize waste and maximize the yield of the logs.

We've recently helped facilitate projects that make use of juniper jacket boards, which are generally considered waste and are most often relegated to the firewood pile. These are the outer slices of the log that are the first to get cut off when the log goes through the mill. The jacket boards still have the bark attached and show the curve of the tree trunk, with only one flat side.

Check out this fence that uses the jacket boards for the horizontal barriers. We love the rustic look, evocative of a split-rail fence but with more structure.

Our clients have also used jacket boards as siding for chicken coops, sheds, even for retail displays.

What kind of creative projects could you use these boards for?