Restoring a meadow near Prineville
On a blustery day while driving out Paulina Highway at milepost 11, a portable sawmill, along with decks of juniper logs are visible from the road.
The project taking place is on the land of John and Lynne Breese, and they are contracting out with Ryan Williams of Homestead Sawmill. On a Thursday morning, in spite of the harsh wind, Williams is milling juniper logs into lumber on a portable sawmill.
"It is portable, so you can just hook it up to a pickup and tow it. It is all self-contained," explained Williams.
The project came about when John and Lynne obtained a small grant from National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), which covered the cost of cutting junipers. Another project that they had been doing with Deschutes Land Trust included 1,500 whole junipers from their land. They harvested the whole trees, with branches and root systems, and took them to the location where McKay Creek joins the Crooked River for a project that the Deschutes Land Trust is currently working on.
"Then we decided, 'What are we going to do with the rest of the project?' which is about 100 acres,"' noted John.
Almost everything Williams is processing for John and Lynne Breese will go to a company in Portland called Sustainable Northwest Wood.
"They are buying all of the finished lumber products," he said of the Portland company.
Williams has an industrial space in Redmond, where he has his mill most of the time. He indicated that he has been trying to process Western Juniper, with the biggest issue being log supply.
"As far as being able to get the logs, logging is really inefficient for juniper. The logs are not worth a lot of money, and there is not much volume in each individual log. There is not a whole lot of incentive for people to log juniper on their property. Really, the incentive is habitat improvement and range improvement. That is most of the return that people get from harvesting junipers, the benefits go back to the land, rather than monetary compensation," Williams went on to explain.
He added that he has done smaller projects for individuals in the area where they have harvested junipers and wanted the lumber for their own projects. For the current project for John and Lynne, he is buying the logs from them and selling the lumber. He mills the logs in his portable mill and sells the end product to Sustainable Northwest Wood. The Breeses use the waste product for firewood.
"There are a multitude of difficulties with harvesting juniper when the intent is creating marketable logs destined for a sawmill," Williams noted. "One difficulty is transporting the logs to the sawmill. While trucking poses a few hurdles itself, one of the biggest is the added expense. By moving my sawmill from site to site, I am hoping to gain access to more material by simply eliminating one step/expense from the harvesting process."
Juniper lumber is primarily used for exterior landscaping-type projects, but does have other applications in flooring, paneling, trim/molding and furniture.
In the current project, John and Lynne cut the trees and the limbs off of the boles of the junipers and then use a processor to grind up the slash. They bring the boles up to Williams to mill into lumber. John said they are waiting to find out if they can break even in the cost of the entire process.
In 1920, when his family had the property, John said the field where they have been cutting junipers was called the Buck Pasture, because at that time, there were no junipers in that pasture. He said that they would bring the buck sheep there before they brought them in with the ewes.
"They had two bands of sheep — one band went to Snow Mountain and the other went clear to Diamond Lake," pointed out John. "That is where their two allotments were until World War II began, and then they lost all their sheep herders to the war. Then they went from sheep business into the cattle business."
Lynne added that now that there are not junipers on the 100-acre meadow, they can now see Hash Rock on the horizon northwest of Prineville.
"The really good hope is that with the removal of junipers, there will be more water for the land. Junipers are water thieves," she said.
They are hoping that the land may return to the meadow much like it was before the junipers were introduced.
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