Practical applications discovered for western juniper

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Due to changes in land management practices, wildfire suppression in particular, western juniper acreage in the western United States has increased dramatically in the past 100 years. Thinning juniper stands helps restore rangelands and habitats for animals like the sage grouse, but until recently, there’s been limited practical application beyond fence posts and firewood for the use of this resilient and durable wood species that is common in eastern Oregon.

Throughout the years, inquiries about western juniper continued, but there were no funds to establish the design values for juniper used by engineers until 2015, said Scott Leavengood, director of the Oregon Wood Innovation Center, a partnership of OSU’s College of Forestry and Extension Service.

USDA Rural Development, the Oregon Department of Transportation and Business Oregon provided funding for juniper testing. Sustainable Northwest managed the project and graduate student Byrne Miyamoto stepped in to do the legwork for the project including small-scale bending, compression and shear tests.

In 2018, Miyamoto concluded an exhaustive series of tests on western juniper lumber and opened the door to commercial wood markets. Wood for the tests came from three Oregon counties (Lake, Crook and Harney) as well as Modoc County in California and Owyhee County in southwest Idaho.

The test results were accepted by the American Lumber Standards Committee, a nonprofit organization whose accreditation program forms the basis for the sale of most softwood lumber sold in North America. Acceptance means that, for the first time, western juniper will be listed in the National Design Specification for Wood Construction, the handbook used by engineers and buyers to select wood for applications from sign posts to houses. Increased use of western juniper could lead to new markets for the trees that are being cut to restore sagebrush and rangelands in the West.

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