A purpose for under-appreciated Oregon wood

Posted by Renee Magyar on December 3, 2013

Portland Business Journal reports: Juniper grows abundantly in Eastern Oregon.

Photo by: Western Juniper Utilization Group

by Mason Walker, New media manager/Portland Business Journal

While Oregon may be best known for the mighty Douglas fir, it's the state's hardwoods and under-the-radar varieties that are poised to play an increasingly important role in reinvigorating the forest sector.

For proof, look no further than eastern Oregon?s abundant juniper inventory. Stands of the twisted, Dr. Seuss-like variety - famous for producing berries that give gin its piney character - have exploded in the high deserts east of the Cascade Range.

The growth has caused headaches for ranchers, as thirsty juniper trees replace grasslands essential for raising cattle and regulating a healthy water table. Ranchers, along with large land owners like the federal Bureau of Land Management, have removed juniper by hand for decades, often at great cost.

But new markets for the gnarled variety are quickly emerging. That's prompted a new nonprofit organization - the Western Juniper Utilization Group - to invest in programs that will aim to streamline the supply of Oregon juniper for landscaping, construction and high-end furniture. The group, spurred by a statewide working group including Neil Kelly Co. CEO Tom Kelly, has raised $70,000 from organizations including the USDA, Business Oregon and the Oregon Community Foundation.

The Oregon State Legislature has committed to provide additional funding once the organization gets off the ground.

While the rise of juniper has already added jobs and new rural opportunities, it's only part of the story. A small Portland company is increasingly becoming a central figure in the rise of Oregon's under-appreciated, and historically lower-valued, varieties.

"We're trying to create new markets for native hardwoods," said Ryan Temple, who's grown Sustainable Northwest Wood to five employees since spinning out of nonprofit advocacy group Sustainable Northwest as a for-profit venture in 2010.

Rewriting the old model

Although many in the wood products industry hope to avoid the economic pitfalls and ecological costs of old-line forestry, it's not always an easy task. A typical traditional timber industry business model is predicated on squeezing quick value out of each acre through the practice of clear-cutting.

Finding new, and diverse, sources of revenue in Oregon's forests will help create resilience in an historically volatile sector of the state's economy.

With that in mind, Sustainable Northwest Wood was created to find higher uses for downed trees in Portland that were being sent to the chipper. It has since grown into one of the largest distributors of native Pacific Northwest specialty lumber and is the largest distributor of juniper on the West Coast.

Temple advocates for integrated forest management, a comprehensive method that focuses on biodiversity, watershed health and long-term returns.

"If Oregon goes about forestry as it has in the past, we'd put ourselves right back in the boom-bust cycle," Temple said

"Value-added production is what makes it work," he added. "Before the recession, we were sending logs to China with little value added in Oregon."

Read the original story here.