By Lyndsie Kiebert
When the infamous March 2020 windstorm ripped through North Idaho, Kaniksu Land Trust’s community forest, Pine Street Woods, suffered the effects of Mother Nature’s wrath. KLT Conservation Director Regan Plumb recalled that “hundreds of trees blew down” on the 180-acre property in west Sandpoint.
“I think we sent five truckloads to local mills, but there were quite a few logs on the ground that we couldn’t sell,” she said, noting that at the time, pine wasn’t sellable and many trees were oversized.
With wood on the ground and ample clean-up ahead, Bonner Soil and Water Conservation District and KLT teamed up to purchase a portable sawmill, in the process creating Kaniksu Lumber.
“It dovetailed perfectly with their mission,” Plumb said of the BSWCD, which is one of 50 conservation districts across Idaho charged with helping people manage and utilize the area’s natural resources.
Plumb calculated that about 80 volunteer work hours went into assembling the sawmill, which arrived at her house on three separate pallets from Tonawanda, N.Y.-based manufacturer Norwood Sawmills. The mill began its work in Pine Street Woods this past spring, and KLT has slowly been building an inventory of lumber available for purchase online. Special orders for fence posts and other home project needs have also come in, and volunteers are currently working to provide wood materials for local biking and trail building group Pend Oreille Pedalers to use in improving area trails.
Plumb said Kaniksu Lumber serves the community forests’ goals as outlined in the organization’s Forest Management Plan, a guiding document created by KLT’s forestry committee, composed of career foresters, an arborist and wildlife expert who teamed up to create a long-term plan for the property.
“That plan is guided by principles of healthy forest, wildlife habitat and fire mitigation,” Plumb said. “It’s not profit driven at all — it’s just about taking care of this land.”
Part of that care now comes in the form of on-site lumber production. While an outsider unfamiliar with the importance of responsible forest management might see trees being cut up as counterproductive to KLT’s mission, Plumb said Kaniksu Lumber is just another facet of the group’s conservation efforts. Cleaning up dead and downed trees helps protect the land from disease, infestation and fire danger.
“I think of conservation as meaning just to take good care of something and, of course, when you manage a forest — even when you’re logging it — you’re taking care of it, so you’re helping to conserve it,” Plumb said.
While Kaniksu Lumber is not driven by profit, the prospect of channeling money from lumber sales back into the community forest is exciting. KLT currently relies on fundraisers and donations to pay thousands of dollars for annual road maintenance, signage, trail work and more.
“We’re very intentional about not charging a fee [to use Pine Street Woods],” Plumb said, “because we want anybody to be able to come up here and use it whenever they want to.”
The sawmill also serves as a reminder of what built North Idaho communities in the first place: the forest product industry.
“Rapid growth of our rural communities, largely derived from urban areas, is fueling a widening disconnect between local residents and the natural world around them,” KLT officials stated in a press release announcing Kaniksu Lumber. “Rural communities such as ours, established a century ago to serve a forestry-based economy, are increasingly filling with residents who neither recognize commercial tree species nor understand the value of sustainable timber management and the ecosystem services derived from healthy forestlands.”
Through educational opportunities — and by simply offering the opportunity to buy local lumber straight off the land where it grew — KLT hopes to bring that historial character to the forefront of its milling operations.
“We want to keep that legacy alive, and we also want to be reminding visitors to Pine Street Woods of all the ecosystem benefits that derive from healthy, working forests,” Plumb said.
The portable, volunteer-run mill is a small but significant call to Bonner County’s past, and a beacon of hope for what can be done through collaboration and hard work in the future.
“For me,” Plumb said, “this sawmill represents education, innovation and partnership perfectly.”
To shop Kaniksu Lumber’s current inventory, visit the online store: kaniksu.org/kaniksulumber. Those with questions or who hope to order custom cuts can also call 208-263-9471. Learn more about Kaniksu Land Trust and the Pine Street Woods at kaniksu.org.
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