Juniper lumber, a dream come true
One of the hardest parts of my craft, is choosing materials that are sustainable. The questions I ask are: where did it come from?, how was it harvested or extracted? and does it have a beneficial outcome to the community and or people that are dealing with it? It's pretty hard to hit a home run with all three and I hope I'm not opening my mouth too soon, but it seems like Juniper from Eastern Oregon is winning big in all of these categories. I never thought I'd be one in favor of cutting down trees, but in this case, I believe I am.
Western Juniper is a native of Eastern Oregon, but has enjoyed an unprecedented population growth because of human intervention in the natural fire cycle. Extreme fire suppression has been the operating mode for about the last century. In the 1930's, Juniper covered 1 million acres, now they occupy 6 million acres. The problem with Junipers is that they are an incredibly thirsty plant and drastically deplete the groundwater, causing other native plants to die. They have been likened to drinking straws, and in the desert-like climate of Eastern Oregon a balanced water distribution is needed for all natives to thrive.
In the recent past, ranchers have cut down young Juniper trees and burned them in an attempt to preserve the Grasslands, but now companies like Sustainable Northwest Wood here in Portland are working with Eastern Oregon sawmills to get the younger trees cut and milled into lumber. The grand old trees that pre-date fire suppression policies are being preserved.
As a building material, Juniper is INCREDIBLY rot resistant, more than any other NW native species. In studies done by OSU, it has proven to last up to 30 years longer than cedar, which is what is commonly used for outdoor construction. I am really not a fan of the chemicals used in pressure treated wood, and I feel really confident using Juniper instead for framing or posts that touch the ground. Juniper is a total workhorse, is very sustainably harvested, and has opened up jobs in eastern Oregon sawmills. There are lots of reasons to be excited about Juniper, except for just gin...
Here's some work I have done with it this past summer. The colors are extremely rich and some of the timbers are roughly milled leaving lots of character.
This is an enlightening video from Oregon Field Guide with ranchers and scientists. There are some mind blowing statistics for those science nerds out there like me.