Western Juniper has captured the nation’s attention

Posted by Renee Magyar on October 21, 2014

Federal and state agencies are committed to ecosystem restoration and new economic opportunities through Western Juniper.

U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewel tours a ranch in Lake County, OR to see the spread of juniper.

Lakeview, Oregon doesn’t play host to a member of the President’s cabinet very often. But projects that are restoring health to Oregon’s high desert and creating jobs and economic opportunity in rural communities brought U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewel to Lake County on September 25th. 

For anyone who has spent time in the shrub-steppe environment, it comes as no surprise that we need a sustainable plan to treat juniper. Two years ago, in Harney and Malheur Counties, a fast-moving fire burned over a half-million acres of this delicate ecosystem. This compounded the challenges already facing landowners and conservation groups, as they try to find workable solutions to protect the greater sage grouse, a charismatic indicator species found only where sage brush thrives. 

Most people agree that Western Juniper needs to be thinned from both publicly and privately owned lands to improve grazing conditions, discourage the spread of invasive weeds, increase water supplies, decrease wildfire risks in communities, and restore habitat for sensitive species like sage-grouse and mule deer. Juniper is a native species but a century of fire suppression, grazing practices, and climate change are among the factors contributing to juniper’s excess proliferation. Done properly, harvest of Western Juniper also has tremendous potential to create jobs, provide new economic opportunities to the timber and wood products industries throughout Oregon, and serve as a plentiful resource for biomass energy. This combination of economic and environmental restoration has won the attention and backing of state and federal agencies.

In July 2013, Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber launched the Western Juniper Alliance, formerly known as the Western Juniper Utilization Group, a collaborative effort of nearly 40 state and federal agency partners, business leaders, and non-governmental organizations. The project is managed by Sustainable Northwest; our shared goal is to create jobs in Juniper supply and market chains in rural communities, the Portland metro area, and along the West Coast. The project is funded by the Oregon State Legislature, Business Oregon, USDA Rural Development, and Oregon Community Foundation

Just last month, as a representative of the Western Juniper Alliance, Sustainable Northwest was party to a memorandum of understanding between the USDOI Bureau of Land Management, and the USDA Forest Service, that commits to supporting long-term ecosystem restoration in eastern Oregon and increase economic opportunity related to Western Juniper. This is the first MOU of its kind, and is a huge step forward in establishing a public-private partnership to recognize the urgency of this issue, do all we can to address it, and support jobs and communities in the process.

And announced this week, USDA Rural Development is funding the first-ever Western Juniper certification study to determine the wood’s structural characteristics and properties. The funding is from USDA’s Rural Business Enterprise Grant (RBEG) program, which promotes the development of small and emerging businesses in rural areas, with a 1:1 match from the State of Oregon provided by the Oregon Dept. of Transportation and Business Oregon. Testing will result in a “stamp of approval” that juniper has been verified by industry professionals for safety and standard usage.

I hope Secretary Jewell is proud of her team; we certainly are. Few initiatives seeking large-scale land management and conservation outcomes can boast such broad and diverse support as the Western Juniper Alliance. The need to manage Western Juniper is rooted at the intersection of environment, economy, and community, and Oregon has transformed this challenge into an opportunity to accelerate ecosystem restoration.