In some parts of the country people call it ‘Cedar’. However Juniperus occidentalis, the Wester Juniper, is actually a genus all its own. While it shares some similarities with cedar, juniper that grows in the northwest is distinctly different from its coniferous cousin.
Too much of a good thing.
The same qualities that make juniper so beautiful and tough have also contributed to its rapid spread in water-starved regions across the western United States. Once held in check by regular forest fires in the high desert, sensitive ecosystems (already stressed by drought) are now being threatened by the proliferation of juniper. Since the late 1800’s, the number of juniper trees has increased by a factor of ten, to the point, now, juniper is so abundant that it is out-competing other species in the same area. This is causing serious issues for some of the more sensitive plants and animals.
It is a thirsty tree.
Juniper is able to consume more than 35 gallons of water per day. This both chokes out other plants—like native sage brush, leaving troubled species such as the western sage grouse without suitable habitat—it also severely restricts the free-flow of water in the area; exacerbating drought conditions. Because of its underutilization as a wood fiber product, and without naturally-clearing fires, juniper has become a serious concern.
Areas where junipers forests dominate show clear evidence of watershed degradation. And they don’t leave a lot for other plants and animals. When left unchecked, juniper forests decrease forage production, loss of wildlife habitat, and overall-reduction in biodiversity.
Such a waste.
Previous efforts to control juniper included cutting down, piling and burning it. However, they proved to be both costly to farmers and mostly insufficient. There is simply too much to make throwing it away effective. Currently, over the next 10 years, Oregon and California have plans to eliminate 10,000+ acres of juniper woodlands; destroying more than two million cubic feet of usable material, and costing of over $13,000,000. Such a waste. Because, apart from its beauty, juniper is also a structurally durable material. In 2018, a study titled Mechanical Property Assessment For Establishing Design Values Of Western Juniper, by The Society of Wood Science and Technology, found juniper to have design values allowing it to be used in structural applications.
Multiple groups have since begun working to build commercial uses for juniper, to help restore damaged rangelands and to manage it as a sustainable resource. One such group is The Western Juniper Commercialization Project. They are working to develop an industry for western juniper, to ensure long-term sustainability of the resource, benefit landowners and local communities, and fully utilize and add value to surplus raw material produced by ecosystem management activities.
What we are doing.
When we first learned of the need for commercial uses of juniper we knew we wanted to do something. Out of that desire has sprung The Juniper Project: a collaboration between Allwood, Sustainable Northwest Woods, and other local companies. Together we have developed a product that is locally-sourced, locally-made, and (we think) really beautiful looking too. The best part is, every Juniper floor we produce contributes to solving a problem that will benefit both farmers and the environment—just the kind of thing we love being a part of.
Something you can do.
Consider Juniper for your next flooring project. If you have ever seen juniper you know it is a really amazing looking wood. The combination of heart and sapwood, along with grain patterns, can be striking. It is often used by wood artists to make rustic, unique-looking furniture. What we’ve found is it also makes outstanding looking flooring! We are excited to share this custom product which highlights the beauty, and unique story, found only in Juniper.