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Legislature Funds Oregon's Fledgling Juniper Industry

July 8, 2015

Juniper is a native Oregon species. But decades of fire suppression and grazing have allowed the tree to spread voraciously over Eastern and Central Oregon. That's a problem because juniper consumes sage grouse habitat and sucks up a lot of water.

The Oregon Legislature passed two bills at the end of the session to help boost juniper harvest, HB 2997 and HB 2998.

The bills provide funding to boost the state's fledgling juniper harvest industry.

Gerard Joseph LaBrecque operates a milling and harvesting company out of Hines that targets juniper.

"Right now the juniper industry has gone from a niche market to what I would call a growing industry," said LaBreque.

"The funding from the state is going to help a growing natural resource industry."  

LaBrecque says it's challenging for juniper mills to secure funding from traditional lenders. The new state bills provide loans and grants so that entrepreneurs can make capital investments in juniper mills and harvest operations. They also provide training programs for workforce development for new jobs in the industry. Both of the juniper bills are funded by state lottery dollars. 

Dylan Kruse is the policy director for Sustainable Northwest and coordinator for the Western Juniper Alliance. Kruse would like to see the market for juniper grow. He says the wood has a great deal of potential.

"Juniper is a nice locally sourced alternative to redwoods or cedar woods," said Kruse. "You don't have to treat it — it's naturally rot-resistant. It's also supporting the local economy and is tied to rangeland restoration."

But the wood is relatively unknown compared to other options on the market. LaBrecque sees that changing in coming years. He's optimistic about the potential for the new industry in Oregon.

"We're pioneering new ground, so to speak," said LaBrecque. "It's the future of the natural resource industry in Oregon."

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Gerard LaBrecque of Joseph's Juniper mills. Juniper sawing is more labor intensive and custom than other forms of milling.

Marcus Kauffman