The University of Arizona

Viewpoint: Western juniper expansion: is it a threat to arid northwestern ecosystems?

A.J. Belsky

Abstract


Many ranchers, rangeland managers, and range scientists in the Pacific Northwest consider western juniper (Juniperus occidentalis Hook.) to be an invading weed that reduces water infiltration, dries up springs and streams, increases erosion, reduces biodiversity, and reduces the quality and quantity of forage for livestock and wildlife species. Although there is little scientific evidence supporting most of these beliefs, they are currently being used as rationales for controlling juniper on public and private lands. Similar views were held about pinyon-juniper woodlands in the Southwest and Great Basin from the 1940's through the 1960's, when efforts were also made to control woodland expansion. Pressures to control the further spread of western juniper and reduce its density in woodlands are increasing. Because of the paucity of information on the environmental effects of western juniper expansion in the Northwest, this paper primarily reviews evidence from earlier studies of pinyon-juniper woodlands in the Southwest and Great Basin. These studies rejected similar assumptions about the deleterious effects of pinyon-juniper expansion on ecosystem properties and call into question current rationales for controlling western juniper in the Northwest. These studies also suggest that while the expansion of juniper might alter species composition and decrease herbaceous biomass in grasslands and shrublands, they have few detrimental effects on streamflow, aquatic organisms, soil properties, or wildlife habitat.

Keywords


stream flow;water yield;habitats;soil erosion;brush control;Juniperus occidentalis;rain;Oregon;range management;plant competition

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