The dozen or so women gathered in the bright, wood-paneled room knew they had big plans in the works. But what they didn’t know was that they were making history.
Together—masked and staying physically distant—the women were the first class to experience the Woman’s Landowner Workshops, a new educational series introducing the basics of managing forestland to a new generation. Over the next two years, these workshops will encourage more women to get involved in forestry and understand its benefits.
This is key, says associate professor Puneet Dwivedi, one of the organizers of the event, as women are poised to play a large role in the industry’s future. “Women forest landowners will be vital in ensuring the sustainability of forestlands in Georgia,” says Dwivedi. “Demographics are changing across the state and the country. Therefore, we have to build capacity of women forest landowners in Georgia and beyond through sustained outreach efforts."
These workshops represent movement in that direction.
Sponsored by the University of Georgia Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources with the support of the Bradley-Murphy Forestry Natural Resources Extension Trust, the inaugural workshop took place at UGA’s Whitehall Forest. Upcoming workshops will occur in locations across the state.
“There is a lot of timberland not only in Georgia but across the United States, and it’s important that we manage timberland for its best conservation,” said Bob Izlar in his opening remarks to the group gathered at Flinchum’s Phoenix. Izlar is director of the UGA Langdale Center for Forest Business. “You decide what you want to do, and then you make that happen—whatever you want to do with your land, we’re here to help you.”
This was the central theme of the day, with experts taking turns teaching the group about devising a plan for their land and working with others to steward it across the years or the decades. The number of acres, the local timber market and how you want to enjoy your land all play into how it’s managed.
Looking for money to pay for a child’s college education? Want a family retreat or a place to hunt? Each of these goals comes with a way to manage timber and wildlife to meet a certain need.
For participant Jacqueline McRae, owning land is partly an escape—she was looking for a way to get out of the hustle and bustle of Atlanta. But buying land is a lot more than signing a contract.
“I wanted to own land for conservation—that was my gut thought. And then my best friend said, ‘You don’t know how to do land.’ She found this group, and she said they had some workshops,” she said. “That was her reaction to me trying to leave the city: Don’t go out without education. So, I thought, why not?”
While McRae’s goal for the workshop might have differed from other participants, she shared the same desire to understand and plan for the future. This is why it’s important to connect more women with forestry, said event co-organizer Danielle Atkins, a Warnell graduate and consulting forester.
Atkins understands it’s a male-dominated industry, and that can seem intimidating to women. But at the same time, more women are inheriting land or deciding to make their own investments. Understanding how to manage forestland offers the opportunity for families to plan for the future, build memories or carry on generations of traditions.
“When I was working with the state, I mostly interacted with men, which is fine,” said Atkins, who worked for the Georgia Forestry Commission before launching her own business, Land & Ladies, last year. “But, among the women I did interact with, I noticed there was a lot of interest in learning more about managing their land. When Dr. (Puneet) Dwivedi called last winter and asked if I wanted to do the first six workshops, I said yes, I’d love to partner.”
Education was the main goal for the day, but another was networking. It can be daunting trying to get your foot in the door of an industry that is so established—especially in Georgia, with the largest amount of privately owned forestland in the country. But all the women there noted the importance of meeting professionals and novices. Together, they were growing their network within the forest industry.
“It’s such a big unknown—in a way it’s scary, because I didn’t know what I was getting into,” adds McRae. “You need to understand it, and for me, I need to understand who else is out there doing it. How do you find friends in forestry?”
These workshops, for McRae and others, are a start.
For more details on upcoming Woman Landowner Workshops, as well as an upcoming online academy and a spring symposium, visit bit.ly/WLseries.