Dec 01 2017

Juniper road trip: Our autumn tour of juniper mills

By KC Eisenberg

Earlier this fall, we took some time to travel around Eastern Oregon and visit the mills that are cutting juniper for us. It was an opportunity for usto meet some folks who are new to the scene, and to keep our finger on the pulse of the mills as they work to produce ever more juniper for growing markets up and down the West Coast.

First, we visited with Caleb Morris, who runs the juniper milling operation for the Ritter Land Management Team. A collaborative group of landowners near the "place" of Ritter (it's not technically a town, they take care to explain to visitors, but a community nonetheless) is working toward juniper remediation by culling logs from overgrown private ranchlands. They recently qualified for a grant through the Western Juniper Industry Fund to invest in a sawmill, and plan to turn the juniper into useful lumber to help offset the costs of the landscape restoration efforts.

Next we ventured to John Day to see the new milling operation at Malheur Lumber, a sawmill that is owned by the larger timber company Ochoco Lumber. Ochoco is a staple in Eastern Oregon and has been in operation since the 1930's, cutting Ponderosa pine and other softwoods harvested from the bountiful forests nearby.

As the forests and rangelands changed over the decades, with juniper encroaching on Ponderosa territory and the composition of the woods changing, Ochoco saw an opportunity in juniper, and recently, through the Western Juniper Industry Fund, acquired special milling equipment to cut it. We recently brought in 2x10 and 2x12 juniper from this mill and anticipate introducing more of this lumber to our customers in 2018.

After John Day, we stopped in the hamlet of Dayville, along the scenic banks of the South Fork of the John Day River, to talk with two small mills there, South Fork Gardens and South Fork Mill.

And finally, we visited In The Sticks Sawmill in Fossil, which is owned by Kendall Derby. We have worked with Kendall from the start of our work with juniper and have enjoyed watching his business blossom as the market for juniper has grown. Kendall, too, recently acquired more milling equipment and is rapidly producing high-quality, beautiful juniper lumber.  

The upshot of this uplifting tour is that we expect to be able to provide growing markets with a stable and steady supply of juniper lumber in the coming months.