By: Anastasia Wolf-Flasch. WWOA Volunteer Coordinator
Walking through the woodlands.
Impressions of boots in the mud remain.
Leaves crunch, twigs break.
The dog follows through the brush along the side of the trail.
A grouse drums a log in the distance.
Reflect and admire.
Approach the shed.
Start up the tractor and commence the days’ work.
There’s firewood to cut, logs to split, and brush to clear, all before the evening’s business meetings.
But she isn’t worried.
She takes a deep breath and smiles; her woodlands are her passion and she is the steward of her land.
Although the profiles of woodland owners across the U.S. are largely men, a 2013 study by the USDA Forest Service’s National Woodland Owners Survey showed the percentage of women primary decision makers on private woodlands increased from 11- to 22-percent between 2006 and 2013, and noted that women comprise 83-percent of secondary woodland owners. However, these trends are not reflected in the number of women attending forestry-focused educational field days and workshops. And, given women tend to outlive men, it’s not something to ignore.
The Wisconsin Woodland Owners Association (WWOA), a statewide nonprofit organization focused on forestry education, noticed this trend and decided to form a women’s group with assistance from the Minnesota Women’s Woodland Network. The Women of WWOA group (WOWWOA) has seen great success since it first began in 2014, generally attracting 20-30 attendees each meeting. Typically gathering once in spring and once in fall, the group travels around the state, exploring different aspects of woodland stewardship.
Built on a supportive, welcoming atmosphere, the Women of WWOA group provides women woodland owners the educational resources they want and need to care for their woodlands. Meeting activities and lessons are focused on the interests and concerns of women landowners and are delivered in an engaging and effective way.
These meetings are also social opportunities. “The mix of talents, interests, and backgrounds in the Women of WWOA group is incredible. Because the group’s atmosphere is relaxed, fun, and focused on sharing, everyone is able to learn something new about their woodlands while also making new friends,” explains Nancy Bozek, executive director of WWOA.
A few days after one fall meeting where basic tree measurements were taught, current WWOA board member Margaret Parsons called the WWOA office to share that she and her husband had just met in their woodlands with a forester to discuss a pending timber harvest. Parsons excitedly relayed that for the first time, she understood what the forester was explaining and she was able to ask questions about the timber sale.
The WOWWOA meetings vary in topic, theme and can take place anywhere in Wisconsin. One past event was a potluck event with a snowy February sleigh ride focused on exploring different forest types and management practices on a member’s land near Shiocton. Recently, they gathered at Powers Bluff County Park in Wood County to learn about flower pounding which transfers the flower dyes onto fabric or paper followed by a walk in the woods to learn to identify the park’s noted wildflowers in bloom.
WOWWOA developed WWOA’s My Land Handbook, a guided workbook to help landowners, female or male, keep their land records organized into one central location to smoothly transition their woodlands from one caretaker to the next. The idea arose when a WOWWOA member expressed concern that she wouldn’t find all of the relevant materials for the land’s proper caring if her husband were to pass away before she did. With their hard work, the WOWWOA produced My Land Handbook and made it available online at http://wisconsinwoodlands.org/resources/.
Building networks, sharing experiences, learning about resources available, and exploring the wonders of the woodland, the WOWWOA continues to help women woodland owners find the support and tools they need to be effective stewards of their land. The group continues to grow and welcomes new members to join and attend a gathering.
Anastasia is the current Marshfield Clinic AmeriCorps Member serving the Wisconsin Woodland Owners Association as their Volunteer Coordinator and has coordinated and participated in several WOWWOA gatherings.