Women and Our Woods - Wednesday Workshop in Wells, ME

Maine Forest Service district forester Patty Cormier teaches women woodland owners about tree measurement

On Wednesday, March 25, the Forest Guild led a workshop for women woodland owners in York County, Maine. The workshop was hosted by the Wells National Estuarine Reserve. Presenters included Amanda Mahaffey, northeast region director for the Forest Guild; Patty Cormier, a district forester for the Maine Forest Service, and Nancy Olmstead, invasive plant biologist for the Maine Natural Areas Program.

The participants came from a variety of backgrounds and ownerships. Some women owned fewer than 10 acres; others owned dozens or co-owned hundreds with family members. Several women lived on their woodland; for some, the land had been in the family for generations, while others were just getting to know their land. Participants included mothers and daughters, retirees, working women, women who worked their land, and women who wanted to know where to begin. All women shared a common love of their land and a desire to do right by it.

The sunny, cozy common room of the Alheim House created the perfect atmosphere for the workshop. Participants took turns introducing themselves with a short story about how they came to own their land and a description of their favorite spot on the woodland. Each story elicited affirming nods, reassuring comments, and plenty of therapeutic laughter among the participants. There were no right or wrong answers, only lots of good questions.

"My goal for you," said Mahaffey, "is for today to become the first page of a new chapter in your relationship with your woodland. We won't be able to explore every avenue of forest management in a single day, but I want to help you learn where to begin on your journey."

Women and Our Woods is a program designed to empower women woodland owners with information, tools, and people resources needed to make informed decisions about their land. The idea arose over a decade ago when the Maine Forest Service, University of Maine Cooperative Extension, and University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension examined National Woodland Owner Survey data and determined a need to equip women woodland owners with tools for manage their land. These partners developed a new form of outreach designed with a unique learning style; rather than the traditional form of being "talked at," the learning was designed to be highly interactive and engaging. Women would leave these workshops with a renewed excitement about taking steps to care for their woodlands. Women and Our Woods spread to other states, and currently is being revitalized in Maine with a peer-learning focus within geographic "home" regions across the state.

Two key topics addressed at the Wells workshop were Setting Objectives and Steps to a Successful Timber Harvest. Mahaffey led an exercise in which participants explored what they wanted their land to look like in five years, ten, or fifty. Participants expressed the importance of maintaining values such as wildlife habitat, keeping the land in the family, and having a forest management plan written. Shorter-term goals were also raised, including clean-up, establishing boundaries, and addressing public use issues. 

Cormier led the participants through the five steps to a successful timber harvest, which includes the essential pieces of before, during, and after including working with a forester, choosing the right logger, monitoring, and making sure the job gets done right. "Rule number one: You are the boss. The forester and logger work for you. You tell them what you want, not the other way around." The forester, Cormier said, should act as the landowner's agent and work with him or her to identify goals and objectives and explain what happens on the land during a harvest. "Call a forester. That was the single biggest take-away for me from today's workshop," said a participant.

Lunch included a "Q&A Café" in which participants could meet with a speaker around a certain topic. Invasive plants were a hot topic of discussion. Olmstead answered numerous questions about plants invading Maine's forests and wetlands. After lunch, the discussion continued in the woods as Olmstead pulled out samples of Japanese barberry and other unsavory characters. The woods walk was beautiful; the group completed a casual loop of the Wells Reserve's Yankee Demonstration Forest, which had undergone planning and timber harvesting in recent years. Cormier, Olmstead, and Mahaffey taught little lessons such as how to gauge tree height, how to estimate the age of a white pine, or how the diversified forest structure following a timber harvest can create nesting habitat for forest songbirds.

We couldn't have asked for a better day. To one participant, the highlights of the program were "Hearing everyone's story. Patty's presentation. I learned a tremendous amount and realized I have so much more to learn and do. One step at a time. :)"

Another participant gained "a much better understanding of what it entails to be a good steward and manage a large parcel of land. The outline for a good forest management plan and the steps involved in bringing this about were invaluable."

Women and Our Woods events in Maine and other states are posted on the national Women Owning Woods website, www.womenowningwoodlands.net. For more information about Women and Our Woods in Maine, contact Amanda Mahaffey, [email protected] or (207)432-3701.