Matthew Garriga, Amy P. Thurow, Tom Thurow, Richard Conner, & Dale Brandenberger
The primary sources of income from rangelands in the Edwards Plateau have historically been livestock production and recreational pursuits, in particular, deer hunting leases (Gerbolini 1995, Rowan and Conner 1994, Rollins and Armstrong 1994). The sale of harvested wood products from the trees and shrubs that naturally grow on the Plateau is another potential income source, but little information is available regarding the situation and outlook for markets for wood products from the Edwards Plateau. These markets dictate the prospects and the incentives to central Texas ranchers to consider wood-harvesting enterprises as part of their ranch management and planning.
The purposes of this chapter are three-fold: (1) to profile the history and the current status of commercial markets for harvested wood products from the Edwards Plateau, specifically, Ashe juniper (Juniperus ashei Buchh.), (2) to assess the future prospects for earned income from wood-harvesting enterprises for central Texas ranchers, and (3) to discuss the limited and shrinking role for wood-harvesting enterprises as a source of ranch-level income, and thus as an economic incentive for brush management on rangelands on the Edwards Plateau.
Juniper on the Edwards Plateau
Two species of juniper occur in the Texas Edwards Plateau, Ashe juniper (known locally as blueberry juniper, blueberry cedar, mountain cedar, Mexican cedar or post cedar) and redberry juniper (Juniperus pinchotii Sudw., known locally as Pinchot juniper or redberry cedar). Both species thrive on the shallow, rocky, calcareous soil that is typical of the Edwards Plateau.
Where livestock is an important income-earning enterprise, ranchers consider juniper to be a serious pest species since its presence significantly reduces livestock carrying capacity by suppressing grass growth (Dye et al. 1995, Hester 1996). Juniper can provide nutrition for ruminants throughout the year, however juniper is not a preferred forage of ruminants due to the terpenoid compounds in the leaves reduce both its palatability and digestibility. Due to the presence of these compounds, the juniper composition of livestock diets is low unless other forage sources are scarce (Huston et al. 1994).
Even where livestock is not present, increasing proportions of juniper on some landscapes in the Edwards Plateau can have adverse ecological implications, such as reducing the availability and palatability of forage for wildlife, decreasing water yields from rangelands, and diminishing biodiversity. As the canopy of the juniper increases with age, the understory vegetation is shaded out. Although wildlife utilize cedar breaks for cover, juniper is generally only a small portion of the diet (Rollins and Armstrong 1994). Dense juniper canopies not only decrease production of preferred forage species on a site but also suppress the formation of fine fuels necessary to carry a fire. Fire suppression perpetuates the dominance of woody species over more palatable grasses and forbs (Smeins et al. 1994).
The mix of grasses and woody species on landscapes in the Edwards Plateau makes a difference in surface water flows and in groundwater recharge. Juniper trees consume large amounts of water, thereby competing with desireable forage species. Junipers also reduce the amount of precipitation reaching the ground through canopy interception (Thurow and Carlson 1994). Removal of juniper has been shown to increase water yield from rangelands in the Edwards Plateau by decreasing interception and evapo-transpiration losses (Hester 1996). Juniper cover, therefore, influences the quantity of renewable clean water supplied to the Edwards Aquifer and to surface water sources. The Edwards Aquifer is an important source of water for irrigated agriculture and for rural communities in the Edwards Plateau, as well as for growing urban populations in central Texas. For example, San Antonio is the largest city in the United States which depends solely on groundwater for its drinking water. The Edwards Aquifer supplies drinking water to 1.5 million people. In 1995, usage of water drawn from the Edwards Aquifer increased by 15% while recharge was down 20% from normal years (Kelton, 1996).
In summary, juniper has a competitive advantage over other trees and shrubs in the Edwards Plateau mainly due to the combination of two factors, selective herbivory — most other plant species present on the landscape are grazed more intensively than juniper — and suppression of fire. Consequently, both species of juniper are increasing in both the extent and density of cover (Taylor and Smeins 1994). In 1982, when Texas brush species were most recently inventoried (Table 1), an estimated 20,297,100 of 20,500,000 acres (99%) in the Edwards Plateau had at least one percent juniper cover (SCS 1985).
|Canopy Cover %||Acres CoveredBy Ashe||Acres CoveredBy Ashe||Total Area|
Most juniper control efforts involve removal of trees or shrubs by cutting or chaining or killing live plants with chemical herbicides or hand grubbing. Herbivory and fire have also been used in combination with mechanical and chemical treatments, yet all treatments have only been marginally successful in the long-term (Ueckert et al. 1994). Redberry juniper is more difficult to control than Ashe juniper, since redberry juniper can re-sprout from the base of the trunk. Also, Ashe juniper appears to be less palatable than redberry juniper, since goating on the Edwards Plateau has resulted in a shift from Ashe dominance to redberry dominance (Huston et al. 1994).
Some ranchers defray the cost of juniper control by selling the wood products harvested from cleared rangelands. The economically-valuable component of the juniper is its heartwood. The heartwood is dense wood which develops over time and in which there is a concentration of oil. The heartwood becomes larger, denser, and higher in oil content especially during periods of stress (Adams 1987). Only Ashe juniper develops sufficient amounts of heartwood to be used commercially. Redberry juniper has a shrub-like growth form and does not typically form large-diameter trunks or branches. Hence, it does not produce sufficient amounts of heartwood to be commercially valuable (Guenther 1972).
Commercial markets for juniper in central Texas
Currently, juniper on the Edwards Plateau is commercially harvested for use in the production of fence posts and juniper oil. Juniper oil is used as an ingredient in a variety of fragrances and scented products. The oil is also a natural preservative which makes the dense heartwood resistant to decay, thus heartwood from Ashe juniper has value as durable posts for building fences (Anderson 1995). Neither Ashe nor redberry juniper is considered useful for lumber, nor are they used in the manufacture of cedar chests or other furniture, because of their crooked growth form and knotty character (Guenther 1972). Neither species of juniper is considered commercially valuable for firewood because of the tendency of the wood to produce many sparks. Live oak (Quecus virginiana Mill.), another prevalent woody species on the Edwards Plateau which occurs in the landscape mosaic with Ashe and redberry juniper, makes excellent firewood and is harvested commercially for firewood. In 1996 landowners receive $55 per cord for cut, stacked oak logs. This price for oak firewood assumes that the transportation costs are borne by the buyer (often, oak firewood can be profitably transported by long-haul truck drivers who would otherwise return empty to large metropolitan centers).
Harvesting juniper on the Edwards Plateau
Most of the juniper used commercially in the 1990s was cut decades ago. Across central Texas, ranchers and cedar post cutters harvested the best available heartwood for fence posts decades ago. It was unavoidable that post-cutters left behind some heartwood in the dead trunks and litter, which remains in tact over time while the surrounding wood gradually decays. Two federal government programs, which offered financial incentives to ranchers for clearing juniper, are largely responsible for the heartwood being harvested today for juniper oil production. The Great Plains Conservation Program, 1933 to 1995, administered by the Natural Resource Conservation Service (formerly the Soil Conservation Service) offered landowners cost-sharing incentives to clear selected tracts of juniper. They were paid up to $15 per acre for juniper control efforts (with payments capped at $3500 per year per ranch). A second cost-sharing program, the Braceros Program, was administered from 1942 to 1964 (Craig 1971). This program issued temporary work permits to Mexican labors to clear juniper on private ranches.
The bulk of the current standing crop of juniper in the Edwards Plateau is regrowth from the past clearings, and it does not contain as much heartwood as the old-growth juniper cleared 20 to 50 years ago (Adams 1987). Where old-growth juniper stands occur today, harvesting is often cost-prohibitive, or else it would disrupt scenic vistas or wildlife habitat. The remaining old-growth juniper in the Edwards Plateau is often found on steep hillsides where it is difficult to manipulate equipment. In addition, many landowners are reluctant to disturb (or to be accused of disturbing) the habitat of the golden-cheeked warbler (Dendroica chrysoparia), a songbird listed as an endangered species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service whose habitat is protected under the Endangered Species Act.
Juniper oil mills prefer previously-cut juniper rather than wood cut from a standing crop because only heartwood yields oil. Mills will only accept loads of wood with the bark and sapwood growth removed. Juniper must be dead and weathered for 15 to 20 years in order for the bark and sapwood to be decomposed, leaving the exposed heartwood. It is not economical to remove the bark or sapwood manually, nor is it cost-effective to haul wood unless it contains large proportions of heartwood. Insufficient data exist to accurately estimate the amount of commercially-viable juniper in the Edwards Plateau. However, representatives in the juniper oil and fence-post industries estimate that the supplies of previously-cut and commercially-viable juniper will meet industry demand for the next 20 to 30 years.
Harvesting juniper heartwood for either oil production or fence posts requires laborers willing to undertake strenuous labor for low wages. Obtaining Ashe juniper useable for either oil production or for fence posts is labor intensive. Prior to 1986, most laborers involved in juniper harvesting were Mexican immigrants who were paid on a daily basis. This source of labor sharply declined following passage of the 1986 U.S. Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) which imposes fines of $250 to $10,000 for employing illegal aliens.
In summary, in the past ranchers cleared more juniper than today, mainly due to increases in the costs of juniper management. In 1996, the market wage in central Texas for legal workers to remove juniper is $10 per hour or more. In the early 1980s, the total estimated cost of juniper clearing on the Edwards Plateau was $5 to $20 per acre; in 1996, the total estimated cost is between $160 to $200 per acre. Labor expenses do not explain the full change in the costs of juniper clearing. In addition, in 1996 many ranchers apply chemical herbicides after redberry juniper has been cut in order to reduce the amount of regrowth.
Manufacturing juniper oil in central Texas: Juniper oil extraction was initiated in Texas in 1929 at Rock Springs (Guenther 1972). In 1996 there were three juniper oil mills operating in Junction, Texas, and one mill was operating in Leakey, Texas.
Most juniper for oil production is collected by independent wood haulers and sold to the mills. One mill in Junction has its own full-time cutting crew. The juniper is harvested on privately-owned lands. Once a suitable site is selected, a lease is negotiated with the landowner. Between $3 and $5 per acre is paid to a landowner for the right to collect juniper from a site. After a lease is signed, juniper is selectively removed from the site. Field crews gather dead juniper, chop and load it into the trucks, and transport the wood to the mills. Virtually all the commercially-viable juniper has been harvested from the immediate vicinity of the oil mills.
Over time, wood haulers have traveled increasing distances from the mills to secure the commercially-valued wood. A rule of thumb is that if a site is more than 30 miles from the mill, the transportation costs will make juniper harvesting unprofitable. In the early 1990s, one of the Junction oil mills tried to establish a new mill near Leakey but this initiative failed. Although there are large supplies of commercially-viable cut juniper heartwood within a 30-mile radius of Leakey, the enterprise was unable to find laborers willing to work as haulers. Furthermore, near Leakey and in other parts of the Edwards Plateau, large ranches are being sold and subdivided into smaller ranches of 15 acres and smaller. The logistics associated with more fences and increasing numbers of landowners make it cost-prohibitive to negotiate leases where commercially-viable juniper harvests would otherwise be possible.
Due to regional supply-and-demand factors, therefore, over the past decade the cost of the raw materials used to produce juniper oil in central Texas increased 37%. Loads of raw juniper delivered to the oil mills cost $24 per ton in 1986 and increased to $38 per ton in 1996. The escalating costs of obtaining heartwood wood made producing Texas juniper oil relatively more expensive in world markets and therefore diminished its competitive position (Boucard 1995).
Several factors are considered in selecting sites and negotiating leases with landowners. A site must have sufficient juniper to make juniper collection a cost-effective enterprise. In the past, post-cutters would not harvest cut-juniper more than one-quarter mile from a road. Therefore, often road-building or road improvements are required to access a site. Often, commercially-viable cut juniper heartwood is interspersed between dense stands of young, undesirable juniper and removal is labor-intensive (thus expensive). Roughness of terrain is also a consideration. Wear-and-tear on vehicles and equipment is costly where terrain is rough. Vehicle maintenance — in particular, the replacement of truck and tractor tires — is a prime consideration in the decision to enter a site.
The juniper oil extraction process uses patented technologies which involve steam and pressure. The composition and quality of juniper oil varies according to the distillation time, the size and quality of the wood being distilled, the processing temperature, and pressure. When raw juniper is brought to the mill, approximately 14% of the weight is moisture and two to four percent of the weight is crude oil which is extracted. Approximately eight hours are required to process each batch of wood (Adams 1991).
Crude juniper oil is sold to distilling companies who extract and separate out several valuable compounds. These compounds are used in commercial production of soaps, perfumes and detergents. The Leakey mill is the only Texas juniper oil production facility which distills secondary compounds from the crude juniper oil and markets its final product to a variety of manufacturers. The Leakey mill uses a specialized manufacturing technology whereby each batch of raw juniper can be processed in 60 seconds (Adams 1991). The technology used by the Leakey juniper oil mill can extract oil from freshly-cut juniper, however the quantity of oil extracted is significantly less than from aged heartwood because younger trees contain less heartwood.
The three mills in Junction sell crude juniper oil to one of two firms for distillation, either Polarome Manufacturing, Incorporated, or International Flavor and Fragrances. The value-added associated with juniper oil increases as secondary compounds are distilled from the crude oil and used to manufacture various fragrances. Distillation of juniper oil produces several organic oils, of which cedrol and cedrene are most valuable (Table 2). Some derivative of juniper oil is used in over 60% (approximately 400) of fragrances currently marketed. For example, perfumes including Chanel No. 5, Halson, Obsession, Georgio, Chaz, Old Spice, Polo and Stetson use constituents obtained from juniper oil.
Polarome Manufacturing and International Flavors and Fragrances currently set the production limits for the juniper oil mills in Junction through their purchasing, since they are the only two customers of the Junction mills. The three mills collectively sell $45 to $50 million dollars worth of juniper oil per year (American Business Information 1996). The Junction oil mills have the combined capacity to process one million pounds of wood per day. In 1996, however, the three Junction mills produced at one-third of their potential capacity due to limits on the effective demand for Texas-produced juniper oil.
In 1991, the world production of juniper oil/cedar oil was 5.4 million pounds, worth an estimated $110,000,000 (Anderson 1995, Verlet 1993). The juniper oil industry in Texas was at peak capacity in the early 1980’s when the Texas mills were selling three times as much juniper oil as they sold in 1996. Texas juniper mill owners credit the decline of the crude juniper oil industry to several factors, citing direct competition from comparable crude oil produced in China as the most prominent factor. Table 2.
|Primary Derivatives||Secondary Derivatives||Chemical Formula||Commercial Use|
|Cedrol||C15H26O||Cedar and Cypress camphor|
|Cedryl formate||C16H26O2||Men’s perfume|
|Cedryl acetate||C17H28O2||Soap perfumes|
|Cedryl cinnamate||C24H32O2||Detergent perfumes|
|Cedryl methyl ether||C16H28O||Soap perfumes|
|Cedrene epoxide||C15H24O||Woody scents|
|Cedrenyl acetate||C17H28O2||Household fragrances, soaps|
Chinese cedar oil is extracted from the indigenous Chinese cypress tree (Cupressus funebris Endl.) (Bauer and Garbe 1985). Although this is not a juniper species, Chinese-produced cypress oil contains several of the same valued compounds as crude Texas juniper oil (Anderson 1995). Chinese cedar oil is less expensive than juniper oil produced in Texas, but its quality is also inferior. Quality is measured by the percentage of extractable cedrol and cedrene. Texas juniper oil has a higher percent composition of cedrol and cedrene than Chinese cedar oil (Guenther 1972). The 1996 market price of Texas-produced juniper oil was $3.50 to $3.90 per pound. Chinese cedar oil sold for $1.70 per pound in 1996. In Texas, as commercially-viable juniper heartwood becomes increasingly scarce, the quality of the raw materials entering the oil mills in Junction and Leakey goes down. Accordingly, the quality of Texas-produced juniper oil entering world markets has declined progressively over time, which affects its competitive position.
Several synthetically-produced substitutes for crude juniper oil are under development by technologists at International Flavors & Fragrances. However, these substitutes are not perfect replacements for the natural product, given the current state of technology. Therefore, many manufacturers who use essential oils in their formulations still prefer natural juniper oil and are willing to pay a premium for distillants from high-quality natural oil. Derivatives of natural juniper oil have inherent properties that the synthetic products cannot imitate, given current technologies. For the foreseeable future, the market for natural juniper oil is likely to be sustained, despite competition from synthetic products. The relative size of the markets for natural and synthetic oils are uncertain, however, contingent on technological progress.
The only by-product from is juniper oil extraction in Texas is juniper fiber, which is marketed to other industries. The juniper fiber produced from the mills is a collection of small, dry, oblong pieces of heartwood. The 1996 Texas market price for juniper fiber was $35 per ton. Juniper fiber can be used in manufacturing of fiber-board, drilling mud for the petroleum-drilling industry, animal bedding, mulch for nurseries, and tar paper.
Declining petroleum exploration in the United States (particularly Texas exploration activities) adversely affected the market for juniper fiber beginning in the early 1980s. Previously, juniper fiber was a preferred drilling-mud medium purchased by American petroleum firms. Selling juniper fiber increased income to Texas juniper oil mills and improved their relative marketing margins for juniper oil.
A recently-established firm in Junction — Advanced Environmental Recycling Technologies, Incorporated (AERT) — uses juniper fiber as a raw ingredient in the production of fiber-board products. By mixing the juniper fiber with plastic, a variety of products can be produced including deck boards, window frames, and door frames. None of these products are cost-competitive as replacements for natural woods for structural purposes, but they can replace natural wood in many other building situations. Fiber-board products from juniper fiber are textured and can be stained or painted. Currently AERT is using all of the juniper fiber produced by one of the three juniper oil mills in Junction. In anticipation of increasing demand for their products, AERT began an expansion project in the summer of 1996 to double their manufacturing capacity. To date, no commercial experience exists to determine whether juniper fiber is useable in AERT’s manufacturing processes if the juniper oil is not first extracted. Therefore, it is uncertain whether the continued success of AERT is contingent on sustained commercial viability of the juniper oil mills.
Cutting juniper fence posts on the Edwards Plateau
Historically, juniper posts have been the fence post of choice by ranchers in central Texas. The heartwood of the Ashe juniper can weather the elements for up to 30 years because of the oil content and density of the heartwood. Traditionally, juniper posts have been plentiful, and supplies are still abundant in most parts of the Edwards Plateau.
Fence stays are thinner posts that are placed between regular posts to give more support and stability to a fence. Often stays are thin juniper branches or wire twists. Increasingly, ranchers prefer steel posts rather than cedar posts when building a new fence. However, because of the abundance of juniper, many ranchers cut posts from their own land to mend existing fences on their ranches.
The use of steel fence posts and stays is becoming more prevalent than the use of juniper posts for three reasons. First, many ranchers perceive that the juniper posts being cut today do not have the same amount of heartwood that juniper posts had 30 years ago. Therefore, they do not believe that new juniper posts will endure the elements as well as juniper posts used by their grandfathers. The second reason behind an increasing preference for steel fence posts is ease of installation. To install a juniper post, an auger is used to dig a post hole. Post-hole digging is labor-intensive in the calcareous limestone soils of central Texas. For this reason, juniper posts are most popular in parts of the Edwards Plateau with relatively sandy soils where installation is somewhat less labor-intensive. Steel T-posts can usually be hammered into the ground, without digging a post hole. Finally, increased use of fire to control juniper and other brush species motivates many ranchers to choose steel T-posts above juniper fence posts. Although the galvanized finish on a steel T-post may be damaged by a prescribed burn, a steel T-post is not destroyed by fire. Fences which use juniper posts and stays are not practical on ranches where fire is an important brush management tool.
Twin Mountain Fence Company in San Angelo, Texas, is the largest retailer of fence posts in Texas. They market two grades of juniper posts (Table 3).
|Most Common Post||Size||Price|
|Yard grade cedar||6½’x4″||$2.60|
|Wire grade cedar||6½’x4″||$1.95|
|Steel T post||6½’||$2.40|
|Wire twist stays||$0.33|
A yard-grade post is straight while the wire-grade post is crooked with one straight side. The most commonly sold juniper posts are yard-grade six-and-a-half foot posts with four- or five-inch tops. The most common wire-grade post is a six-and-a-half foot post with a four-inch top. The price profile in Table 3 shows that there is a price-quality trade-off associated with juniper posts. Depending on the grade of juniper posts, they cost either slightly more or slightly less than steel T-posts.
Several juniper post-cutters in central Texas predict that the use of juniper posts and stays for fence-building will sharply decline in the next 20 years due to the labor-intensiveness and difficulty of obtaining juniper posts. Only Ashe juniper can supply wood with sufficient heartwood to make commercially-valued juniper fence posts and stays. Most commercially-viable juniper for fence posts in close proximity to the established post yards has already been harvested. Accordingly, cutting crews are traveling further and covering increasingly difficult terrain to harvest commercially-viable fence posts. Since crews are normally paid according to the weight of wood they collect rather than earning an hourly wage, juniper post cutters are motivated to seek employment that is less physically demanding and more lucrative. Virtually no new entrants are pursuing juniper post-cutting as an occupation.
Selling juniper posts typically does not generate a large or dependable income for a landowner. Commercial juniper post-cutters make one of two offers to landowners. One type of lease involves a payment of $2 to $5 per acre to a landowner for the right to cut juniper posts on a particular site. The second type of lease involves paying a landowner a percentage of the selling price of the fence posts and stays which are harvested from a particular site. However, the major impediment in negotiations between juniper post-cutters and landowners is usually how much of the juniper will be controlled, not the price paid for entry or for harvested posts. Generally, the rancher is bargaining to have juniper cleared in order to improve range condition or wildlife habitat. For the most part, ranchers are less concerned about generating income from posts and more concerned about effectively controlling juniper. Therefore, offers from post-cutters to simply cut fence posts — leaving behind young juniper which is not commercially viable — are often rejected by ranchers.
Historically, income generated from leases to harvest juniper heartwood for production of juniper oil and for juniper fence post cutting provided an incentive to control juniper on some ranches. The economic importance of these incentives was limited to those ranches which historically harbored old-growth juniper. Furthermore, for the most part, income from such leases is a one-time proposition rather than a regular source of income. Nowhere on the Edwards Plateau have commercial harvests of wood products completely paid the cost of juniper management where landowners aimed to achieve optimal forage production. Rather, income from these enterprises was supplemental and incidental.
Currently, the three significant commercial markets for juniper-derived wood products discussed in this chapter all rely on heartwood from Ashe juniper. No commercial uses have been discovered for redberry juniper, which produces a small amount of heartwood, therefore the cost of redberry juniper control is not defrayed by markets for cut wood.
Raw materials needed to manufacture crude juniper oil is currently the most economically-important market for juniper from rangelands in central Texas. Over the past decade, however, the total quantity of Texas-produced crude juniper oil entering the world market has declined to approximately 30% of its 1986 sales. The raw material used in juniper oil production is heartwood from trees which have been dead 20 years or more. Only limited quantities exist of living stands of old-growth juniper which will, someday, produce high-quality heartwood. Economic and ecological constraints exist to harvesting the live stands of old-growth heartwood for oil production.
Juniper fence posts and stays are the second most important commercial product manufactured from Ashe juniper on the Edwards Plateau. Use of juniper for fencing is in decline because steel T-posts are cost-competitive with juniper posts and stays. Furthermore, fencing built with steel T-posts is less difficult to install and maintain than juniper fencing. The relative cost of juniper fencing material is likely to increase over the next twenty years as it becomes increasingly difficult for post-cutters to obtain access to commercially-viable juniper for harvesting fence posts and as the current generation of post-cutters retire.
Finally, fiber-board is produced in Junction, Texas, by a single firm, AERT, from the juniper fiber which is a by-product of juniper oil production. Experience is limited with production of and markets for juniper-derived fiber-board. Current market prospects appear strong, as AERT doubled its production capacity in 1996. Future prospects are uncertain, however. In particular, there is no commercial experience producing fiber-board from juniper fiber that has not first had oil extracted from it. If fiber-board can only be produced from juniper fiber which is a by-product of oil production, then the commercial viability of fiber-board production is tied to the continued demand for juniper oil in world markets.
Conclusions and Management Implications
Stakeholders in the future of the Edwards Plateau — ranging from ranchers concerned with optimal forage production to urban water consumers and agricultural irrigators concerned with water yields from rangelands which contribute to the recharge of the Edwards Aquifer — have an interest in juniper markets which defray the costs of juniper management.
The potential for generating any commercially-valued products from redberry juniper is non-existent; the current commercial markets are only for Ashe juniper products only. Furthermore, the most valued component of Ashe juniper is heartwood from old-growth juniper rather than from re-growth stands. Paradoxically, it is the least commercially-valued types of juniper which seem to be expanding most rapidly (redberry juniper and young, re-growth Ashe juniper) on the landscapes of the Edwards Plateau.
Prospects appear limited for increased ranch-level revenues from marketing juniper-based products, in view of existing commercially-developed uses for wood products from the Edwards Plateau. The most significant obstacle to expanding the harvests of raw materials to produce crude juniper oil (and its joint product, juniper fiber) and fence posts is not market demand but rather sufficient supplies of commercially-viable juniper for harvest. Labor costs and labor availability are the most binding constraints to cost-effective harvest efforts. Additionally, however, the increasing economic importance of synthetic substitutes for naturally-produced juniper oil and of steel T-posts replacing juniper fence posts on ranches are increasingly likely to crowd out prospects for stimulating new markets for existing juniper-derived products, ceteris paribus.
From a public policy perspective, it makes sense to first seek and develop options to expand existing or potential market-based incentives to stimulate ecologically-sound management practices rather than relying on government funding to support private investments in improvements on private land (Smith 199). While investments in juniper control on the Edwards Plateau promise ranch-level benefits to private landowners (for example, improved forage production), they are also likely to yields publicly-valued benefits (for example, improved recharge of the Edwards Aquifer). If such benefits become public priorities — given this profile of current commercial uses of juniper-derived wood products and known prospects — then existed market-based incentives from commercial wood harvests can be expected to generate only a minor and shrinking share of the economic incentives required to motivate private investments in juniper control.
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Allan McGinty, Professor and Extension Wildlife Specialist