Women Wielding Chainsaws

Women chainsaw course participants

By Christine Hubbard, Merck Forest & Farmland Center, Rupert, VT 

“P.S. Would you consider a women's-only chainsaw training?” came the inquiry in April 2019 from a woman interested in taking Game of Logging (GOL), a chainsaw safety course the Merck Forest & Farmland Center (MFFC) sponsors with Northeast Woodland Training (NEWT). I found it an intriguing idea. Why not host a women’s GOL class? While our classes were filled predominantly by men, women did occasionally sign up. Perhaps a class where women could come together and learn how to handle a chainsaw would be enticing and empowering--a way for women to gain skills in an area that is predominantly male, in a space where they would not have to compete with men. 

The 2013 National Woodland Owner survey results show that women are the primary owners of 475,000 acres (20%) of Vermont woodlands, and that they co-own 1.1 million acres (46%). With forestry being male-dominated, women often lack knowledge and experience in managing these lands. Yet as women tend to outlive their male counterparts, they are often left to manage woodlands without the knowledge or skill base to do so. One important part of woodland management is understanding how to safely use one of the tools required for the job: chainsaws. 

Women chainsaw course participants in the forest

When women’s GOL classes are offered, women tend to advance to higher levels of training. 

It made sense. A quick internet search turned up a few women’s courses that were offered, and an inquiry to NEWT put it into action. In the Fall of 2019, MFFC offered its first Women’s GOL Level 1 course with David Birdsall, co-owner of NEWT, leading a full class of ten women in the techniques of safely felling a tree.

This fall, we again offered women-only chainsaw courses: a Basic course, designed for those who have little to no experience using a chainsaw, as well as GOL Level 1 and Level 2 courses. The classes filled again, as women signed up, eager to be self-reliant--either by choice or by necessity--in stewarding their woodlands. As I look back on these past two years (2019 & 2020) with four sessions of GOL classes--two in which women’s classes were offered and two in which classes were co-ed--it’s clear. Offering women’s GOL classes dramatically increases the number of women who participate in chainsaw safety classes. Furthermore, when women’s GOL classes are offered, women tend to advance to higher levels of training. 

As women take on the task of managing their woodlands, having the necessary knowledge and skills to manage that land is essential. Women’s chainsaw classes provide an avenue to gain those skills, allowing women woodland owners to confidently and safely use the tools required for the job.