By Hilary Corrigan

The Bulletin

The Ochoco National Forest wants to remove younger juniper trees from about 2,000 acres northeast of Prineville to keep them from taking over on land where decades of fire suppression efforts have allowed them to grow unchecked.

The site at Old Dry Creek, in a roadless area about 8 miles northeast of Prineville, includes dry pine forest habitat and winter range for deer and elk.

Tony Spitzack, natural resources technician at Ochoco National Forest, noted that because of decades of efforts to suppress fires that are a natural part of the ecosystem, juniper hasn’t burned like it would in the past. Pines can withstand fires better, but junipers burn. Without fire coming through, junipers can invade larger areas, pushing out other native trees and vegetation.

Junipers also do not go dormant in winter, so they continue using water — and they use a lot of water each day, putting other vegetation at a disadvantage, Spitzack noted.

According to state research, juniper woodlands have increased about tenfold in Oregon since the late 1800s.

Juniper then competes with other native vegetation for water, space, sunlight and soil nutrients.

Removing junipers can help prevent stretches of forest from becoming juniper woodlands, Spitzack said.

The Old Dry Creek location is a priority spot because of the habitat and winter range it offers for wildlife.

It also borders private land, where elk and deer can cause damage. If removing the juniper helps other vegetation to grow, then those federal forestlands may draw more foraging deer and elk from the nearby private lands, Spitzack said. That result could benefit hunters who use public lands to hunt animals.

The removal work entails cutting the trees down and burning them later. The efforts do not target older-growth juniper of at least about 130 years old.

The project depends on funding, but the Forest Service aims to start cutting trees down next summer at the site. Thinning and burning work for the total 2,000 acres would cost about $160,000, Spitzack said. The Forest Service seeks the help of groups such as the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and Oregon Hunters Association on the project, including through grant funding and volunteer work. The Forest Service is currently working to remove junipers at another site on about 1,500 acres between Prineville and Madras and is about halfway through that project.

— Reporter: 541-617-7812,