Blog

Mar 01 2017

The Juniper Story

By KC

As anyone who has ever travelled east of the Cascades knows, juniper is prevalent in Oregon's high desert.  Juniper is an ancient species that has been part of our landscape for millennia, but recently it has seen unprecedented population growth due to human interference with the natural fire cycle that used to keep young juniper trees in check. 

How much population growth?  A lot. Eastern Oregon's juniper has increased from about 1 million acres in the 1930's to more than 6 million acres today.

Juniper's success means additional challenges to the grasses and other plants that compete for space on the desert plains. Not only is there more competition for sunlight, but juniper is a thirsty tree that significantly depletes the groundwater table. The reduction in grasses results in increased erosion, reduced biodiversity, and more difficulty for desert wildlife to find the foraged foods on which they depend for survival.

In an attempt to restore the native grasslands, Eastern Oregon ranchers have for many years cut the trees and burned them, but today Sustainable Northwest and other dedicated groups are working hard to create new markets for the juniper wood to ensure that this useful and beautiful wood is put to use. 

This restoration work helps enable the grasslands to recover and helps keep Eastern Oregon sawmills, an important source of jobs in rural communities, generating income for these communities.  In general, the trees that are cut and milled as part of this restoration work are smaller, younger trees that have sprouted in the years since our fire restriction policies have been formed -- the older, grander trees that predate these policies aren't cut.

Juniper is naturally rot- and decay-resistant, more so than any other native Northwestern species, according to studies by Oregon State University.  It also offers a beautiful rustic aesthetic with warm cream, chocolate, and reddish tones.  Its durability, combined with its beauty and its environmental credentials, make it an excellent choice for decks, garden beds, fencing, and many other uses for homes in the Pacific Northwest. 

Click here to watch an excellent OPB report on juniper and the Eastern Oregon restoration work.

Photo at top: The Cottonwood Creek watershed near Fossil, OR, used to be rolling hills covered in grasses. Today, many acres of juniper woodlands can be seen from this viewpoint
Photos below: The Crooked River National Grassland was designated in the 1960's; since then, it has sprouted a dense juniper forest. The photo at bottom was taken near Burns and shows many infant juniper trees growing on the plains.