Proposed $9 million would reduce Oregon's juniper population
Oregon lawmakers are considering a proposal to spend $9 million to remove juniper trees in parts of the state that are challenged by drought.
Junipers are evergreens, meaning they use water year-round. According to the Jefferson County Soil and Water Conservation District, areas with more than a 50% cover of juniper will see the trees consuming roughly half of the water available from precipitation.
Supporters of the bill say thinning out junipers will help areas with lower-than-normal rainfall.
Opponents of the bill expressed a concern for a lack of oversight, citing the necessity of ecological standards, resource agency supervision and protection for old growth juniper.
Dustin Johnson is an associate professor with the Oregon State University Department of Rangelands. He says it’s important to remove trees while the surrounding soil is frozen, to avoid negatively impacting the ecosystem.
“It’s all about the timing of when you do those treatments," Johnson said. "And just trying to hit those windows when the soil and the desirable vegetation is least susceptible to being damaged.”
The Western Juniper is native to the Western United States, and provides important thermal cover for many species of wildlife. But since the 1800s, their acreage has expanded roughly 10-fold in Oregon, aggravating drought impacts and wildfire risks in Central and Eastern Oregon.