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Ionia wins grant to burn and build with beetle kill lumber

Sabine Poux
A pile of beetle kill wood.

The U.S. Forest Service just announced its 2022 recipients for the Wood Innovations Grant — which provides money to communities for projects that use wood for heating or building. One of the six Alaska recipients is the Village of Ionia, on the Kenai Peninsula.

Ionia is a non-profit intentional community located near Kasilof. It’s been granted $96,060 to use spruce bark beetle kill logs to heat and build homes.

Eliza Eller, a co-founder and resident at Ionia, said it was actually the Forest Service that reached out to Ionia last spring about taking in beetle kill lumber. In March, the beetles had affected an estimated 1.6 million acres of forest in Southcentral Alaska.

“They were looking for projects that could make good use of a lot of the dead trees that are coming off of the Chugach Forest now due to beetle kill,” she said. “And they are looking for projects that can use the wood in ways that are good for the planet and good for the community.”

Eller said the beetle kill wood is perfect for both burning and building.

Ionia will use the wood in their woodfire broiler and masonry heaters to generate warmth for residents. They also have a sawmill, and will use the logs for building homes and furniture in the community. Ionia received a matching grant from the Denali Commission to buy log processing equipment and to build wood sheds.

The grant money will go toward paying local contractors to transport the wood from the Chugach National Forest to Ionia, something that the community does not have the means to do on their own.

“So it keeps the money local and, you know, gets those logs where they need to go,” she said.

The Wood Innovations Program was founded in 2015 and has expanded its Alaska-based grants over the past seven years. The program works in partnership with Alaska Wood Energy to provide technical and financial support for wood projects from wood heating systems to wood energy and engineered wood products.

“We’re very excited to be able to use these funds toward efficient wood-fire boilers and building with natural materials, because this is something we’re very passionate about here at Ionia,” Eller said.

She said she’s grateful to the Forest Service for seeking out Ionia for this project.

Riley Board is a Report For America reporter covering rural communities on the central Kenai Peninsula for KDLL.
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