- Nonindustrial private forest (NIPF) owners control a significant portion of forestland nationwide. Even though women own or manage NIPF lands, we know very little about how women manage forestland and what barriers women face in forest management. In addition, while there are several forestry organizations available to NIPF owners, few are geared specifically to women. Women Owning Woodlands network (WOWnet), an OSU Forestry Extension program for women woodland owners in Western Oregon, proved an ideal community to study women in forestry. I approached my research from a feminist perspective and, using qualitative mixed methods, I interviewed 16 women to learn about women's experiences in forestry, women's roles in forest ownership and management, and women's use of communication and networking in forestry. I examined all of these questions through the theoretical lens of empowerment.
Despite evidence of an overall shift in forestry towards a more gender-inclusive field, gender roles can still be limiting for many women. Some still feel the need to prove their abilities in working in forestry, and some expressed that femininity can be a barrier for women in forestry. However, many women emphasized that they had positive experiences in forestry. Women also play important roles in the ownership and management of their land, particularly as it pertains to current stewardship and land transfer. Women may face unique challenges to forest management. The irregular lifestyle associated with forestry may be especially difficult for women who also run a household. Accessing information poses a barrier as well. Women communicate and network in forest management through involvement with a variety of natural resource-based communities, in general, and WOWnet, in particular. WOWnet, however, is unique from other communities because it is more horizontal, small-group and praxis-based in its approach. The female perspective, both in terms of the kind of information and the delivery of information, also draws many women to WOWnet.
Forestry is dynamic and women are an increasingly important part of forestry, especially when it comes to establishing a vision of good land stewardship. Yet, women's varied roles in the ownership and management of forest land are frequently circumstantial. Women face barriers in accessing forestry knowledge that hinders their achievement of management goals. WOWnet, because it focuses on a female perspective and because it attracts diverse women interested in learning and sharing knowledge about forestry, is an important community for many women in forestry. Recommendations are for extension to shift away from the traditional top-down model of knowledge diffusion to a more holistic approach where university, extension, and landowners equitably engage in discussions of land management. In sum, WOWnet can empower women and serve as a model for other women's groups seeking to empower women.