Harney County man reclaims fallen trees to make posts and other creations

Story and photos by TAMMY DOWNS

Gerard LaBrecque works with his portable mill to turn juniper trees into posts, pictured below.

Gerard Joseph LaBrecque seems to have found his calling in life. He has had a passion for juniper trees for a long time and is finding many ways to reclaim fallen trees.

LaBrecque and his wife, Lori, bought property and moved to Harney County in 1993. With this move began a love of the land, and the wood that grew on it, especially the western juniper found in areas around Burns.

In 1995, LaBrecque began an abstract art business called “ Creations by Joseph,” which primarily uses juniper wood. He uses the western juniper to build a variety of things such as heirloom furniture, flooring,  wainscotting, fireplace mantels and even staircases.

As his business expanded, so did LaBrecque’s interest in juniper, and it should be no surprise that he has found another way to reclaim fallen juniper trees.

In 2009, the Harney County County Court was asked by Patrick Shannon of Sustainable Northwest Non Profit Organization if they could pick a representative from Harney County to attend a secondary wood products tour in Silver City, N.M., and LaBrecque was picked to go. Attending that tour was the seed of this operation.

In March, the LaBrecques were approved to use $145,000 of Harney County’s Title III funds to start their own business, Joseph’s Juniper Inc.

LaBrecque thanked the  Harney County Court and especially Commissioner Dan Nichols, who was instrumental in helping him get the project started.

He also added that Marty Suter of the Harney Soil and Water Conservation District has been a huge help in all the computer work involved.  “Suter has an unbelievably creative mind,” LaBrecque said.

He has wholesalers who  purchase the juniper wood, as the market is growing for  juniper posts.

Wineries are a huge part of the industry wanting juniper. Organic or “going green” wineries cannot use any kind of wood that has chemicals on it, like pressure-treated poles, so juniper is a huge benefit to them.

Finding wood that has already been cut down is another plus to “going green,”  because it is utilizing something that would otherwise just lay around and go to waste.

LaBrecque has a portable mill that he is using in reclaiming falling juniper. The portable mill basically is a large portable band saw. Other equipment used in this operation include a skidder, bobcat and gravity rollers.

The site that he is currently working on is 159 acres of private land in Harney County. To make the venture profitable LaBrecque said he needs to harvest 60 usable posts to an acre.

About 20 semi loads of the finished product — 6-inch by 6-inch square juniper posts — will be shipped out from this site.

He also has roughly 350 straight-trimmed cured juniper fence posts available for sale.

The crew consists of four employees at this time. LaBrecque can foresee getting a stationary mill in the near future, and then his crew would grow to around eight people.

LaBrecque and his crew are working on areas where the junipers have already been taken down. In the future, they would go to land that has junipers that need to be cut down as well.

LaBrecque is very excited about this new venture and said, “The pillar of my strength is my bride, Lori.”

LaBrecque can be contacted at 503-931-6287 or visit his websites: www.creationsby joseph.com
or www.westernjuniper.org/joseph

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