Forestry & Wildlife
AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala.— There will be no wool pulled over the eyes of ForestHER program participants throughout Alabama and the United States. Armed with a working knowledge of the forestry industry and a will to succeed, the graduates of the Alabama Cooperative Extension Systems’s ForestHER program are a force to be reckoned with.
Becky Barlow, the interim assistant director for Alabama Extension’s agriculture, forestry and natural resources programs, said the program was born out of a desire to equip women for success in a male-dominated field. While brainstorming ideas for the plan of work in 2016, Barlow said she wanted to help forestry agents think outside the box.
“Our goal is always to reach traditional audiences who need more information or continuing education,” Barlow said. “But I wanted us to reach outside of the box to an underserved demographic in our area of work—women landowners.”
With her grandmother, Nell Hill, and a past personal experience in mind, Barlow suggested developing a program that gave women an opportunity to ask questions and learn about land management in the classroom, then head to the woods for some hands-on experience.
“Grandmother was not a shrinking violet,” Barlow said. “But 30 years ago she was taken advantage of by a friend of a friend who brought her dinner and befriended her. Then he convinced her to let him harvest her trees to bring in some extra money.”
At that time, Barlow did a forest inventory for her grandmother. She determined that the friend had not given her grandmother a good price. In the end, the swindler left the land in a mess and made himself scarce. Her personal experience has fueled the education of nearly 1,500 landowning ladies from around the world in refined, elegant settings.
Barlow said there were 45 people at the first workshop in 2016. That number had grown to 150 attendees before the pandemic halted in-person events. However, COVID-19 didn’t prevent the forestry team from equipping landowning ladies.
Bence Carter, an Alabama Extension forestry, wildlife and natural resources regional agent, had already started an online lunch and learn opportunity before the pandemic hit. This existing online presence made the ForestHER transition to virtual programming a smooth one.
“The lunch and learn webinar series began as a way to fill a need for ladies who couldn’t participate in a day-long event for whatever reason,” Carter said. “We had a dedicated base through in-person events, but there were still those who wanted educational opportunities on their lunch break.”
When COVID-19 prevented in-person gatherings, ForestHER continued full-steam-ahead online.
Expanding Their Reach
An unanticipated positive outcome of online programming was the expanded reach. Through the online platform, Barlow and Carter have documented participants from 20 states and five different countries. Carter said some of these participants are potentially Alabama landowners who live out-of-state. However, there are still others who want the opportunity to gather and learn with like-minded people in similar situations.
“One of the most unique things about our program is the connections people make with others,” Carter said. “Yes, education is important, but the ability to reach out to others in similar situations is really an invaluable resource.”
Even before the programming went online, Barlow said they had participants travel from Michigan, Texas and Tennessee to attend workshops.
“We are proud to offer a program that continues to provide relevant educational information in an environment where women can freely ask questions, dig deeper and get hands-on experience,” Barlow said.
Carter said planning is underway for 2022 programming, with hopes to meet in person again soon. The team is currently working on topics of interest for the workshops. Barlow and Carter said they are always looking for participant input and topic suggestions.
“No topic is too basic and no topic is too difficult,” Carter said. “We would love to hear requests and suggestions for topics that can be helpful to our participants.”
To share a suggestion for a topic, contact Barlow or Carter by email. More information about ForestHER programming and upcoming workshop dates is available on www.aces.edu. Landowners can also tune in to the ForestHER podcast series.