What do you do when book publishers aren't what you hoped for? Publish your own book.

At least that's what Michael Kauffmann, co-owner of Backcountry Press in Kneeland, has done.

”The publishers I was discussing my first book with had all these restrictions,” Kauffmann said. “For example, I couldn't find someone who would publish it on recycled paper. The risk versus reward of working with another publisher wasn't enough for me, so I decided to publish it myself.”

Backcountry Press was formed in 2012 by Kauffmann and his wife and press co-owner Allison Poklemba during the publishing of Kauffmann's first book, “Conifer Country.” Today, the press is a small publisher of web and print media whose themes explore natural history, ecology and the western landscape.

”Conifer Country” is described on the press's website as a natural history and hiking guide that uses conifer trees as a lens to explore the Klamath Mountains' plant diversity.

Carol Ralph, president of the North Coast chapter of the California Native Plant Society, said plants can be especially overwhelming for less experienced people, and conifer trees are a good place for them to start.

”'Conifer Country,' which has descriptions of all these trails where conifers are, is a wonderful source for people who want to observe them outside but don't know how to go about it,” Ralph said.


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Kauffmann, also a teacher for Fortuna Union school district and Humboldt State University, actually turned the publishing process of “Conifer Country,” into a master's degree in biology at the university. He took classes such as biogeography and silvics that involves the study of tree anatomy and allowed a few professors to read and critique his book, which was a real benefit, Kauffmann said.

Jeffrey White, a professor of biological sciences at the university and Kauffmann's graduate advisor, said Kauffmann showed an extraordinary tenacity to get the very best information available about conifers in the region.

”He fully succeeded,” White said. “ He incorporated scientific data into maps and narratives that are very accessible to amateur naturalists.”

Kauffmann even found an organization in San Diego that prints on recycled paper, and he and Poklemba, who is also the North Coast California regional environmental education community coordinator, handle their own distribution and advertising. Kauffmann's “Conifer Country” and second book, “Conifers of the Pacific Slope,” are now available in all northern Humboldt Bay area bookstores, Kauffmann said.

Kauffmann said the feedback he has gotten regarding his books has been very rewarding.

”A retired ranger from Olympia National Park wrote me an email saying he loved them, and will soon do a tree tour in Northern California,” Kauffmann said. “Experiences where people find connections and joy with the natural world is why I started getting into these books.”

Poklemba said Kauffmann's books seem to have an international following, with orders placed from places such as Sweden, Japan and Australia. The press has also been contacted by people seeking publishing advice and services for everything from ideas to extensive manuscripts that need to be made a bit more digestible for the public, Poklemba said.

Backcountry Press is building slowly but surely, Kauffmann said.

”I hope to crank out a book a year,” Kauffmann said. “There doesn't seem to be a really comprehensive guide on hiking in the county, so I'm currently working on that. Hopefully, Backcountry Press grows into a force in the county that helps share natural history and gets people outside.”

Poklemba said Humboldt County is an area where you really have to think creatively about how you're going to make a living for yourself.

“It feels really good creating Backcountry Press, having that success and being self-reliant. We're so excited to share our enthusiasm about plants and nature. I hope other people can find inspiration from the story of Backcountry Press to help kick start their own ideas and dreams.”

Kauffmann will be leading a day hike exploring conifer country, during Arcata's Godwit Days in April. During a weekend in June, Poklemba and Kauffmann will co-teach a class through the Siskiyou Field Institute, which is out of Southern Oregon. The course will be offered near Etna in Northern California, Poklemba said.

For more information about Backcountry Press and Kauffmann's books, visit http://backcountrypress.com/

For more information about Kauffmann's day hike during Godwit Days, visit http://godwitdays.org/

For more information about Kauffmann and Poklemba's weekend class through the Siskiyou Field Institute, visit http://www.thesfi.org/index.asp

Jillian Singh is a reporter for the Times-Standard. She can be reached at 441-0509 or Jsingh@times-standard.com