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What Is The Big Deal About Western Juniper?

The History Of Western Juniper

The Western Juniper, or Juniperus occidentalis, is native to rock bluffs located in the high deserts in the western United States. They are an extremely adapted tree that can go months without water or drink up as much as 30 gallons a day if the water source they are drinking from can sustain that amount. They live in a wide range of soils varying from a clay soil that is poorly drained to pumy sands which cannot hold water at all. Western Junipers do not have many "predators" so to speak. Their uniquely layered bark and structure prevent infestation by bugs and animals, but also prevent it from disease and lower level fires.

Fires are the primarily eliminator of new growth and juniper expansion. Fires could not burn hot enough in rocky bluffs and steep hillsides because there is a lack of fuel which made the juniper safe. However, in the last 200 years fires have been suppressed through logging, grazing, wetter conditions, and firefighting once one does occur. This in turn has lead to a juniper expansion from around 440,000 acres in 1926 to over 5 million acres in 2022 just in Oregon, with the most concerning expansion in Nevada's great basin where the trees are not native at all. 

The Western Juniper has a relatively long life cycle, with the oldest tree being located east of Bend, Oregon and the earliest growth ring appearing 1600 years ago. For reference of age, when this tree was a sapling, Emperor Theodosius had just died and the Roman Empire collapsed, at 100 years old the legendary Arthur won a battle against the Saxons at Mound Badon in Dorset, in Southern England and the medieval ages were on the horizon, and when the tree was 800 years old Gangus Khan established the Mongolian capital at Karakorum and expanded the empire to include much of Northern China and Korea. Today, 95% of western junipers are less than 100 years old and turning open terrain into woodlands. 

Why is this a problem?

The Wester Juniper's expansion has led to a large decrease in surface and ground water, native plant species growth, and wildlife habitats. Because a juniper can drink up to 30 gallons a day, averaging 10 depending on location, they can dry up springs and natural water ways taking it from relatively conservative native grass species, sagebrush, and wildlife. The western juniper is also known for its large branching out roots that allow it to reach large distances for nutrients in the soil. The canopy of a western juniper also shades out new growth of grass species leaving barren soil beneath it. 

In Klamath County, the expansion of juniper is a prominent feature that can anyone with old photographs or knowledge of the area can see. Junipers can be seen on nearly every ridge, hill side, and mountain. Each of these junipers interfere with snow pack in the fall and winter and how much run-off feeds our main water ways in the spring and summer. It is a contributing factor to our prolonged drought. Below is a video from Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), a partner of KSWCD, full of information pertaining to western juniper removal in the Klamath Basin. 


To sign-up for western juniper removal on your property please contact our office of fill out our digital form!