Ryan Gallagher can hardly wait until next spring.
That’s when he expects to see a lush crop of grass carpeting some 600 acres of pasture where a dense stand of juniper trees formerly stood on the ranch he manages 30 miles east of Klamath Falls.
“This country can grow some really good grass,” Gallagher said Wednesday, Sept. 11, during a tour of the juniper clearing project recently completed by the Klamath Soil and Water Conservation District.
Members of the conservation district board of directors were joined by members of the public to study the project site. Several of those present exchanged stories of how juniper trees have covered broad landscapes that were once valuable rangeland over the past century.
The ranch Gallagher manages for Becklin Land and Cattle Co. is one of six privately owned properties where juniper clearing has taken place over the past two years. The conservation district received a $300,000 grant from the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board to carry out the project.
Altogether, nearly $1.4 million has been spent by a number of partners for juniper clearing on ranch land.
That’s on top of millions more spent by the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management on nearby federal lands over the past decades.
Brian Quick, director of the conservation district, said nearly 130,000 acres have been treated in the area near Langell Valley and Gerber Reservoir, all within the Lost River watershed.
“This will have some very real benefits, not only for the landowners, but for the entire watershed in this area,” Quick said. “We expect to see a lot more water being absorbed into the soil, which in turn will support grasses and forbs.”
Gallagher said he and his neighbors have already noticed springs and streams coming back to life following juniper thinning projects. Reservoirs are filling faster and staying full longer, he added.
Shawn Greenfield, a logging contractor in Lakeview, was hired to clear junipers on Becklin land and adjoining property owned by Virginia Kent earlier this summer. Greenfield used large tractors with circular saws mounted on the front to cut trees with trunks up to 2 feet in diameter.
The trees were gathered into large piles, leaving land that was almost instantly transformed from juniper woodlands to open range similar to what it might have looked like a century ago. The treatment plan called for leaving only one or two large trees per acre to provide shade for livestock.
Quick said the “leave” trees will also provide valuable wildlife habitat.
Gallagher said he is exploring options for use of the juniper logs, though he admits there’s not much demand. It’s likely most will be burned on site this coming winter.
Partners in the juniper clearing work in Klamath County have included the Oregon Department of Forestry, the Klamath Watershed Partnership, the Farm Service Agency and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Now that this year’s project is complete, Gallagher said he knows he has work ahead controlling the thousands of juniper seedlings and saplings that were not removed in the clearing project. The land will also be closely monitored for any invasive weeds that may spring up.
Quick, meanwhile, hopes to identify more land where watershed improvement projects might take place in order to carry out the conservation district’s mission.
Looking around the area Wednesday, Quick said there’s plenty of work to be done.
“Unfortunately, when you look around, all you see is a sea of junipers,” Quick said. “We just need to keep plugging away at it.”