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Oregon ag board to discuss juniper control, water quality

By Eric Mortenson

Capital Press

State ag board will hear an update on state water policy and juniper control.

The Oregon Board of Agriculture will hear about juniper utilization projects, learn about water quality improvements and review agriculture department budget and legislative reports when it meets Sept. 17-19 in Prineville.

The need to control or find a commercial use for western juniper, which covers hillsides in much of eastern and central Oregon and competes with rangeland grasses for water, has been under discussion for more than 20 years.

A Western Juniper Utilization Group was formed in 2012, however, and the effort got a boost this summer when Gov. John Kitzhaber designated juniper control an Oregon Solutions project, making about $260,000 in state funding available. Juniper group members hope to expand commercial uses of juniper in artistic wood products, furniture and landscaping or construction products. Increasing commercial uses could create jobs and give landowners a viable harvest option, rather than simply burning piles of cut juniper. 

One way or another, getting rid of juniper is a good idea, Tracey Liskey, a Klamath Falls farmer who is chair of the state ag board, said.

“A lot of people, including myself, believe it is a weed,” Liskey said.

Photographs from the early 1900s show hillsides bare of juniper trees because periodic fires controlled them, he said. Fire suppression has allowed the trees to spread. A study by Oregon State University showed the acreage covered by western juniper is three to 10 times greater than it was 150 years ago. Junipers out-compete other vegetation for water, making less food available for grazing livestock or wildlife.

“It’s a very water-thirsty tree, it’s just sucking up the water supply,” Liskey said. “It’s like an upside down umbrella, instead of shedding water it’s shedding it into itself.”

The 10-member board advises the Oregon Department of Agriculture on policies and programs. The meeting next week is at Central Oregon Community College’s Crook County Open Campus.



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