A forest for everyone, managed by women

By Kayci Willis, Maine TREE Foundation forest programs coordinator

A tree farm near Brownville is gaining attention for being managed entirely by women.

Williamsburg Forest, a 180-acre educational forest maintained by the Piscataquis County Soil and Water Conservation District, features over two miles of interconnected trails and remarkable property highlights, including legacy white pine trees, vernal pools, and old homesteads. This spring, it was the location of the final installment of Maine’s Forest Climate Change Initiative’s webinar and field tour series.

In line with the theme of adaptation and implementation, the Williamsburg field tour covered topics related to forestry, climate, and research from the perspective of women practitioners. With an all-female management team, Williamsburg Forest provided a unique opportunity to highlight the impact of inclusion and representation in a generally male-dominated field. According to Molly London, the property’s licensed forester, this opportunity happened organically, “We are a group of professionals who all happen to be women, but we ran with it.” 

Contributed photo
FOREST TOUR — Molly London, licensed forester, and PCSWCD Executive Director Sarah Robinsonr lead the “Women’s Approach to Climate Change” tour at the Williamsburg Forest.

The group came together in 2022 as part of a renewed effort to restore and enhance Williamsburg Forest. While the property had been managed for years, no system was in place to document what had been done. Due to unorganized records and missing documentation about past management, the team had to piece together the property’s history from signage found in the woods, pieces of paper with handwritten notes scribbled in the margins, and boxes and boxes of records. 

“One of our big goals was to make sure whatever we did on this property could stand even if our core group is gone,” London emphasized. 

The revitalization team’s core group of ten women discussed management strategies to establish a “forest for the future” during what is now referred to as the Ladies’ Walk and Talks. During these walks around Williamsburg Forest, the team recognized the importance of managing not just for their property but for the surrounding community. 

The Brownville area is harvested regularly for commercial purposes. While Williamsburg Forest is planning harvests that mimic natural disturbances, London emphasized the importance of creating reserve and retention areas. “We want to leave a group of large trees to address habitat and ecology concerns.” She described how they integrate wildlife conservation and forest management through initiatives like the Forestry for Maine’s Birds initiative. “It makes you zoom out and look at the property from a larger viewpoint,” she said.

Sarah Robinson, the executive director of the PCSWCD, highlighted the collaboration with the Penobscot Nation, which shares property boundaries with the forest. “Their perspective and experiences were invaluable during the planning process.,” she said. “We listened to their concerns and goals and used their knowledge to inform our decisions.” 

The FCCI webinar and field tour title was “Women’s Approach to Climate Change.” Robinson laughed when asked how a woman’s approach to climate change differs from other approaches. 

“It is a bit of a bait-and-switch because the management is not different,” she said. “We still base our decisions on the best available science, but we are actively working to include a specific audience.” 

However, she emphasized the importance of accessibility to the outdoors and inclusion in generally male-dominated spaces, “We have seen the impact targeted outreach has on engagement. Women-focused workshops and opportunities have better attendance by women than general options.”

A prime example is the chainsaw workshops that have been hosted at Williamsburg Forest. “When we opened up the workshop to anyone, we had only one woman attend, but when we marketed a women’s chainsaw workshop, there was a waitlist of women who wanted to attend,” Robinson explained. The property has since become the location of women-centered skill-building workshops hosted by Women Owning Woodlands

With cell service, dog-friendly and well-marked trails, and interpretive signage explaining the area’s historical and cultural significance, Williamsburg Forest provides a welcoming and comfortable space for all visitors. Jessica Leahy, a natural resources professor at UMaine and one of the women on the revitalization team, aptly recognized the property as “A forest for everyone, managed by women.” 

The FCCI series, now concluding its fourth year, is a collaborative effort between the Maine TREE Foundation, the Forest Stewards Guild, and UMaine’s Center for Research on Sustainable Forests. The quarterly workshops focused on the impact of climate change on Maine’s woodlands, exploring climate-induced forest health issues and the tools and strategies land managers use to address them. 

If you want to read about past workshops or are interested in learning more about Williamsburg Forest, check out the resources below:

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