Men have long dominated the forestry industry, but within the last 30 years women have made great strides in forestry, according to the United States Forestry Service. University of Missouri Extension natural resources specialist Sarah Havens is one individual helping women find their passion in the field of forestry.
Havens, a University of Missouri alumnus, and St. Charles native, educated Missourians about the importance of natural resources before she joined the MU Extension team. While teaching biology and ecology at East Central College in Union, Havens formed a consulting business, making her one of only two female consulting foresters in the state.
“Many women landowners were referenced my way to make them feel more comfortable about selling timber and managing their property,” Havens said.
She came up with an idea of creating a program in Missouri for the national initiative Women Owning Woodlands. When she joined MU Extension in 2018, Havens had an opportunity to bring this idea to life.
“The mission of WOW is to bring topical, accessible and current forestry information to woodland owners and forest practitioners through news articles, blogs, events, resources and personal stories,” she said. “We support women in forest leadership, women who manage their own woodlands, and all who facilitate the stewardship of forests.”
While developing the program, Havens turned to the Alabama Cooperative Extension System for ideas and guidance.
“I was searching for a way to involve women in a program that was different from what extension offers, but one that also complements it,” Havens said.
She came upon Alabama Extension’s ForestHer program, a successful workshop series for women landowners, and talked with the woman who oversees the program, Becky Barlow, an extension professor at Auburn University.
Over the past year, WOW in Missouri has helped more than 120 women with forestry-related initiatives. When COVID-19 put much of MU Extension’s in-person programming on hold, Havens put together online “Lunch and Learn” sessions to stay connected with women across the state that rely on her assistance.
“Lunch and Learn sessions really came out of necessity,” Havens said. “I sat down with a calendar and planned out all 12 months with Women Owning Woodlands and my other programming since I cover 61 counties.”
The weekly sessions offer a bird’s-eye view of many topics. Havens brings in guest speakers to introduce attendees to other women foresters.
“There has been research done that explains why we should do women-specific programming,” she said. “In mixed groups, a lot of women feel overwhelmed that they don’t they know enough. Because of this, they do not ask the questions that they want to ask. Women excel when they are around their peers and can ask the questions they want.”
Recent topics center around timely issues affecting the industry, including invasive species, honeysuckle and trees that keep their leaves longer in the fall.
Havens hopes to reach more women throughout the state and create additional natural resources programming for Missourians.
WOW’s executive board in Missouri comprises women professionals from MU Extension, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the Missouri Department of Conservation and the nonprofit conservation group Pheasants Forever/Quail Forever.
“A few ideas that came up at our board meeting included creating packets and mailing resources to participants, continuing lunch and learns, developing at least one field day for 2021, and connecting pollinators and woodland owners,” Havens said. “We also discussed trying to do some programming aimed at a younger audience and perhaps expanding WOW programming to middle school or high school girls.”
To learn more about the Women Owning Woodlands initiative, visit www.WomenOwningWoodlands.net.