As anyone who has ever travelled east of the Cascades knows, juniper is prevalent in Oregon's high desert. Juniper is an ancient species that has been part of our landscape for millennia, but recently it has seen unprecedented population growth, thanks to human interference with the natural fire cycle that used to keep young juniper trees in check.
How much population growth? A lot. Eastern Oregon's juniper has increased from about 1 million acres in the 1930's to more than 6 million acres today.
Juniper's success means additional challenges for the grasses and other plants that compete for space on the desert plains. Not only is there more competition for sunlight, but juniper is a thirsty tree that significantly depletes the groundwater table. The reduction in grasses results in increased erosion, reduced biodiversity, and more difficulty for desert wildlife to find the foraged foods on which they depend for survival.
In an attempt to restore the native grasslands, Eastern Oregon ranchers have for many years cut the trees and burned them, but today Sustainable Northwest and other dedicated groups are working hard to create new markets for the juniper trees to ensure that this useful and beautiful wood is put to use.
This restoration work helps enable the grasslands to recover and helps keep Eastern Oregon sawmills, an important source of jobs in rural communities, generating income for these communities. In general, the trees that are cut and milled as part of this restoration work are smaller, younger trees that have sprouted in the years since our fire restriction policies were formed -- the older, grander trees that predate these policies aren't cut.
Juniper is naturally rot- and decay-resistant, more so than any other native Northwestern species, according to studies by Oregon State University. It also offers a beautiful rustic aesthetic with warm cream, chocolate, and reddish tones. Its durability, combined with its beauty and environmental credentials, make it an excellent choice for decks, garden beds, fencing, and many other uses for homes in the Pacific Northwest.
Photo at top: The Cottonwood Creek watershed near Fossil, OR, used to be rolling hills covered in grasses. Today, many acres of juniper woodlands can be seen from this viewpoint
Photos below: The Crooked River National Grassland was designated in the 1960's; since then, it has sprouted a dense juniper forest. The photo at bottom was taken near Burns and shows many infant juniper trees growing on the plains.
Many old homes, and many new homes being designed in a historic style, make use of Douglas fir for trim, flooring, cabinetry, and other interior finishes. Douglas fir is an iconic wood for period homes and represents an important era in American history.
Douglas fir was a popular choice for homes built in the late 19th century and the first half of the 20th century. Its warm amber color tones, distinctive grain patterns, and high strength-to-weight ratio contributed to this popularity. An ample supply of high-quality old growth lumber coming from the vast forests of the Pacific Northwest also contributed: A market was built to capitalize on this prolific native species.
Over time, the market changed and tastes began to evolve toward the modern marvels of the twentieth century. Hardwood flooring was replaced with synthetic carpet; wood trim was covered in vivid enamel paints; and wood countertops and furniture were replaced with patterned, shiny laminates. Today, it can be hard to find the authentic Douglas fir finishes needed to replicate and restore the period homes of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Fortunately, Sustainable Northwest Wood offers a wide array of Douglas fir products that can be used for historical preservation, restoration, and replica projects. And in a reflection of contemporary values, all of these products are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council to ensure the good management and sustainable practices of the forests that produce them.
Our Douglas fir products include:
- 3 1/4” CVG (clear vertical grain) Douglas fir flooring, in stock and ready to go
- Mixed grain and CVG plywood for cabinetry and furniture
- CVG fir solid surfaces in butcher block and plank styles
- Mixed grain and CVG lumber ready to be milled into trim, stair treads, decorative beams and mantels, and other interior accents
5-ply Structural 1 plywood, also known as Struc 1, is the best kind of plywood to use for seismic resilience because it is made of Douglas fir throughout the sheet of plywood. This gives Struc 1 plywood more strength than typical plywood, which is made with softer, weaker cores of pine or white fir.
Sustainable Northwest Wood aims to offer high-quality plywood at an excellent price. This is why we stock 5-ply 1/2" Struc 1 CDX plywood -- which is, of course, also FSC Certified and contains no added urea formaldehyde (NAUF).
All of our 1/2" CDX is Struc 1 rated. We've got it in stock and ready to go for your seismic retrofit and other construction projects. Please contact us today for current pricing.
We get this question a lot. All the time. And the short answer is: Not always.
In fact, oftentimes our FSC certified, locally harvested wood products are less expensive than the same non-certified products, sourced from who-knows-where, at nearby Big Box stores.
Case in point: Folks are always surprised at how cost-effective our plywood options are. All of our plywood is FSC certified, locally manufactured, and contains no added urea formaldehyde. We can trace it right back to the mill that makes it and the forest that provides the wood. And because the supply chain is so short, our plywood is often less expensive that the non-certified, mystery-origin plywood at other retailers in the Portland area.
Now with some products, FSC certification will add a bit onto the cost. Most rough estimates generally say between 10% and 20%. This is because the mills that provide FSC dimensional lumber (commodity products like 2x4s and 2x6s) add a certain percentage to cover the costs of the auditing and additional paperwork required to maintain the chain of custody.
So with 2x4s, 2x6s, and other framing lumber, in general most projects should budget a little more to be able to use FSC wood. These products can be combined with less expensive FSC products (such as plywood) to help spread the additional costs out over the budget and minimize or negate any extra costs.
Other FSC items that do not necessarily cost more are our FSC cedar and hardwoods. Because we work directly with local mills, we eliminate the middle men, which works out better for our customers (and helps us ensure that our mills are operating in ways that meet our Triple Bottom Line goals).
Here are some ways that you can minimize any added costs of building with FSC lumber:
- Order in advance. Any time material has to be rushed to a jobsite to meet a tight deadline, there will be added costs for shipping. Especially if it's an unusual item (24' beams or 2x14 lumber, for instance). By getting orders in well ahead of time, shipping can be minimized.
- Design the project to use standard materials. While we are able to offer highly customized dimensions and specialty items for projects, these are going to cost more whether or not they're FSC certified. By designing around standard sizes and planning your project to make use of in-stock items, you can help keep the costs down. Ask for a copy of our price list to see what standard sizes are.
- Explore alternatives. Sometimes using unconventional materials can help reduce overall project costs considerably. For instance, maple is a very beautiful hardwood that is often used for cabinetry, furniture, and other interior finishes -- but alder is a less expensive option with a nearly identical look.
We began our urban log wrangling adventures in the fall of 2013, standing before a monster myrtlewood measuring four feet at the base, planning our attack.
Intrigued by the idea of urban forestry, my friend and now business partner Daniel Baca and I had recently purchased an Alaskan Mill. With only a few cuts under our belt and an under-powered electric winch, we were as green as the first crooked slab we’d cut that day.
Fast forward to the fall of 2016 and our business has matured alongside our stacks of air-dried lumber. Daniel and I joined forces with Mark Parisien to start urban lumber company Epilogue LLC. Now equipped with a Lucas Mill we have slabbed out several hundred such monster logs to date.
But back our our first adventure…
The myrtlewood was a beast, its lumber promising. Its challenge? No access. The tree’s owner had called some other companies who had passed for this reason.
After an hour of set-up we were ready to make our first cut. Our new Logosol chainsaw mill, outfitted with a double-ended bar and two chainsaw powerheads, had walked a bit on our trial run a few days back. Dials now tweaked and fingers crossed, we proceeded full throttle into the belly of the beast. “Double Cobra” we hollered as we plunged into the log.
Double Cobra would thenceforth be our name and battle cry; a place-holder until we would refine our approach and become the strictly professional urban lumber troupe now known as Epilogue LLC.
Five loud and stinky minutes later we had our first cock-eyed slab. Nuts! The bar was walking again. What started as a three inch cut became four inches by the end. A mile outside the margin of error for many a skilled craftsmen known to round to the nearest 32nd of an inch. I could hear my Dad, a contactor for 40 years, weigh in. “Did a beaver make that cut?”
We argued as to the cause. Was it two powerheads with different amounts of power? Too much flex in the bar? Who knows. We just kept going. “Double Cobra!”
Several hours later we had seven slabs from the main log and managed to wrestle around one of the leaders and cut three more. By sundown we somehow managed to move and flat stack all the slabs, the largest weighing about 250 pounds (photo at left). Moving them just a few feet was difficult if not impossible but getting the slabs out of the backyard was a job for a few more hired guns.
We now had a dozen or so spalted myrtlewood slabs, numb arms, aching backs, and a hunger for more!
Three years have passed and the adventures continue. And so have the challenges, whether it’s a wild goose chase leading to worthless wood, a perfect log full of nails, or a test of patience as we wait for our lumber to properly dry for yet another year.
But every time we open up a log to reveal its distinct beauty, it’s worth it. It also feels good to save a few of these giants from the firewood pile.
Epilogue LLC’s new showroom at Sustainable Northwest Wood has those beautiful myrtlewood slabs ready for sale along with a variety of hard and softwood pieces ready for your crafty hands! Slabs have been patiently air-dried for one to three years depending on species and thickness, kiln-dried to below 10% moisture content, and surfaced on both faces to 120 grit.
*Crooked slabs courtesy of Double Cobra Milling.
Do you have an urban hazard tree that you'd like see turned into lumber rather than chips? If so, here are a few things to consider:
1. We don’t buy logs, other than an occasional black walnut log. Why don’t we pay money? A load of logs bucked to saw log lengths free of metal is worth money. A log or two coming from a yard of variable quality is time consuming and expensive to pick up. A standing tree may be filled with metal, concrete, and have defects that can’t be oberved until the tree has been removed.
2. A few photos showing the whole tree including the trunk and where it branches out is very helpful. The limbs and leaders generally don’t make good lumber. The trunk is what we are primarily interested in. If the trunk has a lot of branches or it is growing at an angle, we will probably pass.
3. It’s easier to coordinate directly with the tree company doing the removal. We need to know the removal date, and the address of the property. Also, crane removals are much easier to execute.
4. In general we are looking for hardwood species such as Black Walnut, Elm, Maple, Sycamore, Cherry, Oak, and Black Locust. There are some more unusual species such as Catalpa and Silk tree just to name a few. We also mill Deodar Cedar. At this time we don’t take Doug Fir or other native softwoods. We are looking for trees at least 24” in diameter.
5. You can contact us at email@example.com. Our apologies up front if you contact us and we are unable to respond. We do our best to get back to people but sometimes we are just overwhelmed with calls.
In the late 1800s, pioneers that arrived to settle in central and eastern Oregon, southeast Washington, northern California, and southwest Idaho saw a very different landscape than the one we know today. Rolling grasslands and sagebrush steppe provided adequate breeding habitat and forage for wildlife species like mule deer and sage grouse. Only the occasional Western Juniper tree was visible on the ridgelines.
Following this time, a period of overgrazing of domestic livestock compounded by federal fire suppression policies allowed the tree to thrive. Western Juniper (Juniperus occidentalis) is a natural survivor and is well adapted to the high desert. Wildfire is its only natural predator, and without a regular fire cycle to clear out new seedlings, its presence has increased exponentially over the past 150-180 years from its historic recorded range of 1 million acres to nearly 9 million acres today.
RENEE MAGYAR serves as Sustainable Northwest’s communications director. She can be reached at 503-221-6911 ext. 116 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Here's an interactive map that shows where to buy our juniper landscaping timbers. This map shows all of our current dealers in Oregon, Washington, and California.
If you're in an area outside the regions covered by this map, please let us know and we can discuss ways to get you the wood you need.
A recent office remodel in downtown Portland was designed with elaborate custom casework that called for one-of-a-kind oak panels. The project architect wanted to use a locally-grown wood that would reflect a sense of place and add warmth and visual appeal to the space.
We were pleased to supply custom panels and slabs of solid Oregon white oak, milled to precise specifications, for the casework, interior panelings, and other office furnishings.
The results are stunning: Modern yet warm, inviting, and reflective of the special personality of the oak selected for the project!
More photos are available here.
We are fortunate to work closely with two different, yet not entirely dissimilar, communities. Each day we work with lumber producers from small rural communities far from urban centers. Each day we also work with contractors, homeowners, and woodworkers in urban communities all over the region, and the country. It is through our work with these diverse groups that we are reminded of all that we have in common and all of the goals we share with our fellow citizens, both rural and urban.
Many of the products we offer are shining examples of urban-rural collaboration. Juniper is one such example: The juniper industry is made possible through the hard work of ranchers, loggers and millers in the Eastern half of our state, but most of its users live in big cities, in Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.
At Sustainable Northwest Wood, we understand that this widespread urban support of triple-bottom-line products sourced through rural producers is how we rebuild our rural economies. It is how we heal the wounds caused by job loss, industry attrition, and the other undesirable effects and unintended consequences of a globalized world. We look forward to expanding urban-rural collaboration in the coming years.
We are proud to stand in the "radical middle," working hard to support our rural producers, to provide quality service and products our urban customers, and to celebrate our shared goals and successes.
The way forward is together. Please join us.
Great news for gardeners and landscapers in Southern California: Jones Lumber in Lynwood is now stocking our Restoration Juniper landscaping timbers! Stock up here for all your raised garden beds, retaining walls, and other landscape projects.
Juniper performs exceptionally well outdoors and will last longer in ground-contact applications (30+ years!) than any other Pacific Northwest native species, including cedar and redwood. It is also a great substitute for chemical-laden pressure treated wood, making it an ideal wood to use for raised garden beds, retaining walls, trellises, arbors, and other installations.
Our Restoration Juniper is sourced from grassland restoration projects throughout the high deserts of the West. Juniper is a native species, but decades of wildfire suppression have allowed it to take over what was formerly a grassland ecosystem. Its out-of-control population growth and thirst for limited water supplies lead to erosion and a loss of biodiversity.
Many acres of juniper are now being cut as part of a collaborative program to restore the grasslands, the groundwater supplies, and the habitat of critical species including the sage grouse.
Jones Lumber is stocking the following Restoration Juniper products:
- 2x6x8 surfaced lumber
- 2x6x8 rough lumber
- 4x4x8 rough timbers
- 6x6x8 rough timbers
Click here for more information about juniper, its exceptional durability, and its special story.