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Western Juniper is ‘in the house’!

Posted by Dylan Kruse on March 16, 2015

Two Oregon House bills are on their way to supporting economic and environmental restoration in eastern Oregon.

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About House Bill 2997 and House Bill 2998

Representative Tobias Read (Democrat, District 27, Beaverton) introduced two complementary bills that can be a boon for small juniper businesses – and rangelands and sage-grouse habitat – in eastern Oregon.

These two bills, and the Western Juniper effort, have broad and diverse bi-partisan support from 40 sponsors in the Oregon House and Senate. Together, the bills:

  • Provide working capital in the form of loans and grants for small juniper sawmills and entrepreneurs to strengthen and expand their businesses and maintain and create jobs in rural communities.
  • Provide technical and business assistance to small juniper businesses to improve their financial viability, create strong operating plans, and maintain a durable and efficient presence in the marketplace.
  • Support training programs for workforce development, and make sure that jobs in the juniper industry benefit rural communities suffering from high unemployment and poverty. 
  • Provide funds for land mapping and tree inventory analysis, to ensure juniper land coverage is accurately identified and there is a sustainable supply of juniper that balances industry needs and environmental benefit.
  • Provide funds for collaborative efforts to improve the juniper supply chain and conduct market development to grow the juniper industry and introduce larger volumes of this underutilized wood species in green building markets and agricultural operations.
  • Encourage the sustainable harvest and utilization of Western Juniper for ecological benefit and economic development in rural communities, as well as provide sustainable and locally produced wood products to the urban marketplace and green building sector.

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Why is it necessary to harvest and market Western Juniper?

Western Juniper is a native species to Oregon, however largely due to fire suppression and past grazing practices, the tree has rapidly expanded beyond its native range. In the 1930s it was estimated that Oregon had roughly 1.5 million acres of juniper. Today that range has grown to between 6 and 9 million acres, and water tables and habitat for sensitive species like sage-grouse are suffering as a result. 

Juniper encroachment is a major threat to sage-grouse. It pushes out sage brush and native vegetation that sage-grouse depend on for food and nesting areas. Sage-grouse is close to being listed as an endangered species, and if this happens it would have significant repercussions for the economic foundation of eastern Oregon and the West. In sage-grouse habitat areas, cattle ranching, agriculture, and renewable energy development could be severely limited.

There is agreement between all sides – environmental, ranching, logging - that encroaching Western Juniper needs to be removed 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. 

Harvest of juniper also has potential to create jobs and provide new economic opportunities to the wood products industries throughout Oregon. By utilizing the by-products of Juniper management and removal, we can create jobs and value added wood products that generate revenue in rural communities, improve wildlife and rangeland habitat, and stretch scarce state and federal land management dollars further for greater ecological impact.

Without viable markets for Juniper wood products, we lack the required financial resources to control the Juniper encroachment problem. 

You can help.

Call your Congressman to support bills HB 2997 and HB 2998. In the meantime vote with your dollars. Thinking of planting a raised garden bed this summer? Visit www.westernjuniper.org to find garden bed timbers.

Learn more about the benefits of this legislation and hear from one of the juniper millers in Eastern Oregon who will benefit if these bills pass. Listen to an interview aired last week on Oregon Public Broadcasting’s Think Out Loud.