Advocates have long maintained that removing Western juniper trees improves rangeland and can provide jobs in rural areas.

A Spray, Ore., landowner was awarded the state’s first loan under a program intended to jump-start the removal of Western juniper trees.

Jim Epley, who is restoring 1,500 acres of long-held family property to be a cattle operation, will use the $39,000 loan to continue cutting and milling juniper trees. He’s bought saws, a trailer, a portable mill and a skid-steer Bobcat to move logs. In addition, he’s hired two people and had a third coming on before recent bad weather force a temporary shutdown.

The state loan program, known as the Western Juniper Industry Fund, was established by the Oregon Legislature in 2015. Advocates have long held that removing intrusive juniper trees from Eastern Oregon rangeland has multiple benefits. Juniper is a “water thief,” as one rancher called it, that can use up to 30 gallons or more of water a day and rob native grasses of moisture.

A study by Oregon State University showed that removing juniper almost instantly improved watersheds and stream flows, and Epley said he’s seen that on his own property.

When he was growing up, the property had multiple springs that bubbled up to the surface in springtime. He left home to do other things, and when he moved back in 1996, j