Western Juniper

Juniperus occidentalis
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Habitat Values: Older juniper trees have the ability to continue living and growing even as their center rots and becomes hollow. These hollow cavities provide unique feeding, roosting and nesting habitat for bluebirds, owls, bats, woodrats, woodpeckers, and many other species which otherwise would have no place to live.

Management Considerations: Management of juniper across the western United States has historically been related to removal (cutting, crushing, chaining, burning etc.) in order to increase grasses and other forage for livestock— this is not the case for Sheldon and Hart Mountain refuges, as grazing by sheep, cattle, horses and other livestock no longer occurs on these lands.

Throughout most areas where western juniper occurs (including Hart Mountain and Sheldon refuges), historic livestock grazing until recent times combined with suppression of wildfires, and changing climate has both allowed western juniper forests to become dense and overcrowded, and to also expand from it’s natural rocky and rugged habitat into the surrounding sagebrush. Today, 95% of all western juniper are less than 100 years old. As a result, not only is the health of both juniper woodland and sagebrush habitats degraded, but these dense and overcrowded woodlands are more susceptible to wildfire. This habitat degradation ultimately affects the numerous other dependent plants and animals.

Numerous research studies have been conducted and articles written about these changes, and various actions which can be taken to restore more natural and healthy conditions to these habitats.

Facts About Western Juniper

Origin: 50 million years ago

Range: Idaho, Oregon, Nevada, and California

Height: 15-30 feet

Tallest Tree: 98 feet

Age: 200-500 years old (typical)

Oldest Tree: 1,600 years old