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USDA Grant to Help Turn Ecosystem Challenge into Economic Opportunity for Rural Oregon

Jill Rees
Release Date

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced USDA Rural Development grant funding to help create rural jobs and restore ecosystems by expanding commercial markets for Western Juniper, an often unwanted and problematic species prevalent in central and eastern Oregon.

Portland, Oregon, based nonprofit, Sustainable Northwest, will receive a $64,990 USDA grant to put Western Juniper through a rigorous series of tests to certify the wood’s durability, strength, aesthetics, and best applications for a variety of uses. A naturally rot resistant wood, Western Juniper offers a non-toxic alternative to pressure-treated lumber for such purposes as landscape timbers, school play areas and guard-rail, sign, and porch posts. While engineering design values are available for other major wood species, buyers currently do not have access to certified information for Western Juniper.

“The benefits of this certification process are twofold,” said USDA Rural Development Oregon State Director Vicki Walker. “Making Western Juniper more marketable will create jobs in Oregon’s timber and forest product industries while supporting ecosystem restoration activities.”

Natural resource experts and land managers commonly identify issues with the unchecked expansion of Western Juniper on public and private lands, such as the spread of invasive weeds, reduced water supply, and reduction of critical habitat for sensitive species like the sage grouse. Without viable markets for the wood, juniper removal activities for ecosystem restoration alone can be prohibitively expensive.

Oregon State University in collaboration with West Coast Lumber Inspection Bureau will assess engineering design values for Western Juniper over the coming year. Matching funds for the project are provided through the Oregon Department of Transportation and Business Oregon. The overall effort, currently known as the Western Juniper Alliance was declared an Oregon Solutions project by Governor John Kitzhaber in July 2013. Through the effort, a number of state and federal government agencies, businesses, and other organizations, are collaborating to restore ecosystems and create jobs by harvesting unwanted Western Juniper.

Today’s announcement is part of a $4.9 million USDA investment in 50 projects across the country to support small and emerging rural businesses. The funding is from USDA’s Rural Business Enterprise Grant (RBEG) program, which promotes the development of small and emerging businesses in rural areas.  RBEGs may also be used to help fund distance learning networks and employment-related adult education programs. Eligible applicants include public bodies, private non-profit corporations and federally recognized Indian Tribes. Funding for the recipients announced today is contingent upon their meeting the terms of the grant agreement.

Since the beginning of the Obama Administration, the RBEG program has helped create or save more than 90,000 rural jobs, provided more than $54 million in economic development assistance, improved manufacturing capability, expanded health care and educational facilities, and has either expanded or helped establish more than 3,200 economic development  projects.

President Obama’s historic investments in rural America have made our rural communities stronger. Under his leadership, these investments in housing, community facilities, businesses and infrastructure have empowered rural America to continue leading the way – strengthening America's economy, small towns and rural communities.