National Woodland Owner Survey data shows that female woodland ownership in Iowa is increasing. In 2013 approximately 12% of primary woodland owners were women, and by 2018 that number had risen to approximately 20%. Women also made up nearly 50% of co-owners in 2018. Despite the availability of forestry programs and organizations to all people, women are still less involved in these opportunities than men, and a new program in Iowa is seeking to change that.
The Women’s Woodland Stewardship Network (WWSN) is a collaborative program led by Iowa State University Extension and Outreach that was launched in October 2021. The goal of the program is to empower women to become more actively involved in woodland stewardship and forestry in Iowa.
Peer groups and social networks are valuable for increasing engagement among women, which has been demonstrated by several programs across the country, including the Iowa State’s long-running Women in Agriculture program. A survey of participants in this program found that 88% would be more involved in decision-making if they were able to increase their knowledge and confidence in managing the land they owned. Most respondents also reported that they preferred women-centered programming.
At many agriculture and forestry programs, women are a noticeable minority. Changing that dynamic with women-centered events allows women to share their personal experiences with others and fosters an empowering sense of solidarity. When women feel like they have less knowledge and experience with woodland management than their male peers, they are often less likely to speak up during mixed forestry events and ask questions about the information they are interested in. In addition to providing learning opportunities, WWSN creates a space where women can increase connections with female forestry professionals and other women who own or have influence over woodlands. Through these events, WWSN seeks to help women feel better equipped and supported in pursuing their forest management ideas and goals.
WWSN has partnered with several female professional foresters and landowners to offer four events since 2021. These events included woodland walks and a field day focused on management strategies, plant identification, forest health, and wildlife habitat. WWSN also offered a female woodland owner panel discussion where five women shared their personal experiences with owning and managing woodlands. These events were well attended and participants provided positive feedback in evaluations about the opportunities to learn from other women.
Moving forward, WWSN will continue to offer woodland walks and field days and will be expanding to offer additional opportunities, including workshops and a female ambassador program where women who own and manage woodland will be able to showcase the work they have done on their property. The ultimate vision for WWSN is to increase learning and engagement among women so they will not only become more involved in management decisions but also become more active in the many forestry programs, field days, and organizations in Iowa.