Junipers' Nature: Tall, Thirsty and Sneezy Weed?

They've Invaded Millions of Acres; Fire Hazard, Too

POSTED: 9:56 AM PDT May 11, 2012    UPDATED: 10:07 AM PDT May 12, 2012 
BEND, Ore. -

You see them everywhere on the High Desert. But for many people, the only time they pay much attention to juniper trees is allergy season.

More than a nuisance for allergy sufferers, juniper forests have spread, invaded parts of the Central and Eastern Oregon landscape.

"It has really invaded areas that previously had no juniper,? Stephen Fitzgerald, a professor with the Oregon State University Extension Service, said Friday.

In the 1930's Oregon had about 1.5 million acres of juniper forests. Today, that's estimated at more than 6.5 million.

"Juniper is not very fire-resistant, so periodic fire used to take it out of our system," said Fitzgerald. He added that, ?juniper is the ultimate competitor for water. One tree, say 12 inches in diameter, can consume anywhere from 30 to 50 gallons a day during the growing season."

That means juniper trees can kill off natural grasses and other vegetation, destroying habitat for some animals and contributing to erosion.

Public projects to cut down junipers or to reintroduce fire happen around the High Desert on federal forest land, BLM and private property. But those can be expensive and are often dependent on grant money. Juniper, for various reasons, does not make good lumber trees.

If you have a few acres of juniper on your property, Fitzgerald says you don?t need to cut them all. Old-growth juniper occurs naturally on rocky ledges. Leaving some trees can also be good for the environment, providing an environment of its own.

However, he cautions to clear trees away from your house. Juniper trees can prove a fire hazard, as they burn extremely hot.