Forester speaking to women in the woods

Launching the Women’s Woodland Stewardship Network to Support Women in Forestry

Story by Julia Baker

As I sat at home watching a webinar in October of 2020 about an Oregon State University Extension and Outreach program that supported female woodland owners through educational and networking opportunities, I thought to myself, “Would it be possible to have a program like this in Iowa?” Fortuitously, six months later I received an email from a partner at Missouri Extension and Outreach asking if Iowa was interested in joining them in offering programming for women who are woodland owners in the Midwest. My response was an enthusiastic yes!

As a Program Specialist for the Natural Resources Extension team at Iowa State University I was in the right position to launch the program. However, I needed to know if women in Iowa would be interested. An informal email survey sent out to members of the Iowa Woodland Owner’s Association produced multiple responses from female landowners across the state saying they would be eager to participate in women-centered forestry programming. With this encouraging response, I did some research to better understand female woodland ownership in Iowa and identify strategies for engaging women in outreach efforts. I found that according to the National Woodland Owner Survey, female woodland ownership in Iowa is increasing. In 2013 approximately 12% of primary woodland owners were women and by 2018 that number had risen to approximately 20%. Women also made up nearly 50% of co-owners in 2018. Despite this, women are still typically far less active at forestry events than men. Several programs across the country, including Iowa State’s long-running Women in Agriculture program have demonstrated that peer groups and social networks are valuable for increasing engagement among women.  

Women foresters standing in a circle in the woods.
Foresters scouting prior to the first WWSN event in Amana

Equipped with this information, I pitched the idea for the Women’s Woodland Stewardship Network (WWSN) during an initial planning meeting with a group of female professionals and private landowners who are active in forestry in Iowa. Several women present at the meeting expressed interest in supporting WWSN, which led to essential partnerships with female professionals who work for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, the National Wild Turkey Federation, and private forestry consulting companies, and female landowners who are local leaders in forestry in their communities.

In October of 2021 we launched WWSN with an inaugural event in Eastern Iowa, just outside of Amana. We called this first event a “women’s walk in the woods” and offered participants the opportunity to meet fellow female woodland enthusiasts, connect with female professional foresters, and learn about forest stewardship practices, native and invasive plants, and forest health.

A group of women standing next to a woman forester with a chainsaw in the woods.
A forester demonstrating safe chainshaw use at a WWSN event in Shimek.

WWSN has now offered a total of 5 events, including two that were delivered in partnership with the USDA’s Women, Land and Legacy program. Events included 2 educational woodland walks, a tour of a female private landowner’s woodland where she showcased the stewardship she has done on her property, and a regional field day that brought women from Missouri and Illinois to Iowa’s Shimek State Forest to learn about woodland stewardship strategies and equipment, plant identification, non-timber forest products such as mushrooms and ginseng, and wildlife habitat. We also offered a female woodland owner panel discussion where five women shared their personal experiences with owning and stewarding woodlands. These events were all well attended, with an average of 20 women participating in each event. Through evaluations, participants have overwhelmingly expressed positive feedback about the opportunities to learn from and meet other women during these events. Many participants also report that they feel more confident in their ability to manage woodlands after attending a WWSN event.

The goal of WWSN is to empower women to become more actively involved in woodland stewardship, decision-making, and all forestry-related activities and organizations in Iowa. As we strive to achieve this goal, it has been extremely rewarding to see the excitement of the participants and female professionals and leaders to be in women-centered spaces that offer a unique learning atmosphere. WWSN events have been a source of inspiration and motivation for me as I watch so many passionate and talented women working together to support each other in efforts to conserve Iowa’s woodlands and enhance their benefits to wildlife, water quality, and people. I am excited for the future of this program and am eager to expand the number and types of events offered in the years to come.

Julia Baker, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach

Julia Baker is a Program Specialist for the Natural Resources Extension team at Iowa State University. She supports the team with a variety of projects and programs including the Land Stewardship Leadership Academy and she coordinates the Women’s Woodland Stewardship Network. Julia has a BA in Biology from Grinnell College and is currently working on her MS in Wildlife Ecology at Iowa State University. Prior to her current position, her interests in conservation and public outreach motived her work throughout the Midwest on projects conducting research on habitat selection of threatened and endangered bats and birds, collecting biological field data for Iowa’s Multiple Species Inventory and Monitoring Program, and serving as the Iowa Wildlife Action Plan Outreach Assistant.

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