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Inaugural symposium challenges women to get a hand on their land

Attendees listen to a presentation during the inaugural Woman Landowner Symposium.

Woman Landowner Symposium creates a space for understanding and connections, with the future of forestry in mind

 

 

Women are essential to the future of forestry.

That was the message brought home to 65 participants at the first Woman Landowner Symposium, which took place in May on the University of Georgia campus. Offered as both an in-person and online event, the two days of presentations and networking aimed to better connect female landowners with the potential their properties hold.

“We emphasized key aspects of women being energized to be engaged with their lands, being enlightened to their opportunities and finally to feeling empowered to make decisions in the future,” said Danielle Atkins, owner of the forestry consulting company Land & Ladies and a graduate of the UGA Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, which helped organize the event. “This bi-annual event is meant to inspire women whether they are new and beginning landowners, shopping to be first-time landowners, or are veteran and experienced managers.”

The event also served as a capstone event for other programs launched in 2021 and earlier this year to connect and educate female landowners. Last fall, Atkins and Warnell faculty members Puneet Dwivedi and Bob Izlar launched a series of one-day workshops around Georgia that served a similar purpose, bringing lessons in land management and estate planning to participants in a more personal setting. In January, Atkins led an online series of workshops that took participants through an educational program she had created with the support of Dwivedi and Izlar.

The symposium built off those other experiences but was also designed to stand on its own. The goal, organizers say, is to have a singular event that can draw participants from across the country to discuss one of the most important issues facing forestry: Sustaining our privately owned forests into the future.

“The percentage of female forest landowners in the United States, who owned more than 10 acres and were also primary decision-makers, increased from 12% in 2006 to 14% in 2013,” said Dwivedi, an associate professor in forest sustainability at Warnell. “However, the majority of the current female forest landowners have never been actively engaged in forest management.”

This is due to several reasons, said Dwivedi; first, forestry has traditionally been a male-dominated field, making it difficult for women to start conversations about forest management. Training manuals also cater to a male clientele, failing to create a sense of community among female landowners. And, he added, there has been almost no research into the motivations and constraints faced by female forest landowners in the context of sustainable forestry, either at a regional or a national level.

“This lack of knowledge about female forest landowners has resulted in a situation where extension efforts to engage them were either not launched at the regional level, and even if they launched, they failed due to the mismatch between the information provided and information needed,” said Dwivedi. But with a longer life expectancy compared with their male partners, and with about 30% of the general population older than 54—increasing by 35% in the next 30 years—finding ways to engage women with the forested land they own is essential to keeping forests as forests and contributing to the demand for sustainable wood products.

The issue is especially clear in the Southeast, where female forest landowners make up almost a quarter of all private forest owners and own about 13% of the south’s forestland. Whether these owners choose to retain their land, develop it or pass it on to the next generation depends on their understanding of managing it.

Which is where the Woman Landowner Symposium came in.

Over the course of two days at the UGA Special Collections Libraries, participants heard different viewpoints on the “big picture” of forestry and women’s role in it, as well as introductions into topics such as working with consulting foresters and understanding timber markets and policy.

Speakers such as Tamara Cushing, the 2020 president of the Society of American Foresters, and Wanda Barrs, the Forest Landowners Association’s 2020 Forest Landowner of the Year reinforced the importance of women in the field and included. Other speakers approached the topic from a business or entrepreneurial perspective, such as Jody Strickland, chief business officer for F&W forestry Services, and Veronica McClendon, founder of McClendon Law & Consulting. And Cade Warner, director of business development and improvement for The Westervelt Company, offered a more historical perspective—he spoke about his grandmother, Mildred Westervelt Warner, the paper industry’s first female titan.

For a full list of speakers, please visit the event’s website.

When the group adjourned, participants left saying they felt energized and inspired, with an understanding of their next steps and new connections to help them build a better relationship with their land. And that was the main goal, said Atkins. With a theme of “Enlightened Ownership,” she said she wanted to focus the event on initial engagement.

“In 2023, our theme will be ‘Empowered Ownership,’ where we focus on real skills to empower women to manage their land,” she added. “And in 2025, our theme of ‘Enrooting Ownership’ focuses on creating a lasting legacy.”

In the meantime, research conducted by Dwivedi and graduate student Jax Miner will help fill the gaps in knowledge about female forest landowners. By understanding why women want to own forestland—or what barriers they may face in continuing to own or manage their land—the researchers hope to better tailor programs and support networks that encourage more women to get a hand on their land.

“Their decisions on how they manage their land—whether it’s sold, bequeathed, subdivided, etc.—will determine the fate of forestry and residents across the southern region,” said Dwivedi. “It’s imperative to understand motivations and extension needs for southern female forest landowners. When we secure the position of the South as the wood basket of the world, ensure prosperity for our rural regions and facilitate intergenerational land and knowledge transfer, we ultimately ensure the sustainable management of forest resources in the southern United States.”

Bringing more women landowners into the fold of forestry continues the region’s track record of quality forest management, added Izlar.

“We have a long, proud history of sustainable forest management in the United States,” he said. “Engaging all forest owners and particularly female landowners, since they are and will be a driving force in future land use decisions, is essential to the conservation of our precious natural resources.”

 

Note: Support for the Woman Landowner Symposium comes from the Georgia Forestry Commission, the Georgia Forestry Foundation and the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service. Support for Woman Workshops comes from the Bradley/Murphy Trust. Support for Online Landowner Academy comes from the Georgia Forestry Commission and the Georgia Forestry Foundation. Sponsors of the events also include DS Smith, Farm Credit Association of Georgia, F&W, FRAM Renewable Fuels, HLRBO, IFCO Seedlings, The Westervelt Company, Interfor, Silviaterra, Enviva, Beasley Group, Orbis and International Paper.

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