ForestHER Program Empowers Women Forest Landowners
by Cole Sikes
AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. — Jackie Meggison is a forest landowner in Pike County, Alabama. She is no stranger to the natural beauty of forests. In her own slice of Alabama, she manages forests and other natural resources to ensure that both humans and wildlife may also appreciate the great outdoors. Taking care of land can be a difficult task, and Meggison said the Alabama Cooperative Extension System ForestHER Program provides support to her forestry efforts.
A New Home
After retiring from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission as a law enforcement officer, Meggison moved from her long-term home to a 30-acre property in Troy. She began looking for new connections and resources in an unfamiliar community and environment. One of her first discoveries was the Alabama Extension website, www.aces.edu.
“After we moved here, I was looking for different avenues for resources,” Meggison said. “I discovered that my local Alabama Extension office had many to offer.”
The first program Meggison enrolled in was the Alabama Extension Master Gardener program. It is through these workshops that she learned more about Extension and its other offerings, including the ForestHER program. ForestHER is a forest management program made specifically with women landowners in mind. This opportunity proved to be a perfect fit for Meggison.
“Our goal is always to reach traditional audiences who need more information or continuing education,” said Becky Barlow, Alabama Extension’s assistant director for agriculture, forest and natural resources programming. “But I wanted us to reach outside of the box to an underserved demographic in our area of work — women landowners.”
Bence Carter, an Alabama Extension forestry and wildlife regional agent, was a big help for Meggison after moving to Alabama.
“A unique part of 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.”
Carter’s assistance during the years has not gone unnoticed by Meggison. She said she considers him an important local resource.
“One of the most helpful resources that I acquired through Alabama Extension is regional agent, Bence Carter,” Meggison said. “I refer to Bence as the go-to guy for questions or concerns pertaining to forestry and natural resources. He has certainly been a big help to me over the years.”
Learning New Skills
With new territory comes new skills. This is where Alabama Extension helped Meggison’s green thumb by teaching responsible forestry management skills.
“Through the ForestHER program, I was able to learn to do things that I didn’t know before,” Meggison said. “It was very beneficial for me to know that I can do this, and if I don’t know something, I have resources and contacts to help me figure out what I need to do.”
By learning the ins and outs of forestry equipment — such as compasses, Biltmore sticks, diameter tape, drip torches and clinometers — ForestHER participants are empowered by professional instruction. These new skills are imperative for any landowner to successfully manage their forests for wildlife and sustainability.
It’s a Small World
One of the most comforting aspects of attending ForestHER workshops for Meggison is the sense of community and camaraderie.
“For me to go through the program with other women who were basically in the same boat was awesome,” she said. “Some of us didn’t know anything about forest management, some were widows and some just wanted to take the course to meet people. It was an excellent, nonintimidating environment.”
Meggison said she has gained invaluable friendships in her short residency in Alabama thanks to Extension programming. With so many program options, Extension fosters community engagement, allowing people to stay connected with proven resources for life’s everyday questions.
If there is any hesitation about contacting Alabama Extension, Meggison said people should not be intimidated.
“If someone is curious about Alabama Extension, I would tell them not to hesitate,” she said. “Whatever your topic of interest is, Extension has it to offer.”
Since her involvement with Alabama Extension, Meggison’s property has seen countless improvements and provides a sustainable, healthy forest for generations to come.
Discover Alabama Extension
Supporting women forest landowners is just one of the many ways Alabama Extension delivers solutions for life’s everyday challenges. Extension educators are strong community partners, bringing practical ways to support homes, farms, people and communities.