Chainsaws, Herbicides, and Propane Torches: Women Landowners Gain Hands-on Forestry Skills

Women and Their Woods participants during the Spring 2012 workshop in Bradford County, PA.

Friday afternoon, April 20, significantly the weekend of Earth Day 2012, twelve women landowners from Pennsylvania and New York gathered in the home of Nancy Baker for the Women and Their Woods spring workshop.  The Women and Their Woods program brings women landowners together to provide them with valuable education and educational resources and to cultivate long range support groups who are able to properly steward their lands and seek help in caring for their lands should they need it.

The spring workshop at Nancy’s was offered as a follow-up to the 2011 Women and Their Woods Educational Training and Retreat. Seven of the twelve workshop attendees also participated in the 2011 Retreat, which was offered to women from across the region interested in learning more about forest management and who could then act as mentors for other landowners in their area. The Women and Their Woods program is offered by the Delaware Highlands Conservancy in partnership with USDA Forest Service at Grey Towers, Penn State Natural Resources Extension, and PA DCNR.

At the start of the weekend workshop, the women gathered around Nancy’s dining room table, looking over a large map showing the aerial view of her 100+ acre property. The sun shone brightly across the freshly mown yard just beyond the windows, as we all listened to Nancy talk of the history of the land she inherited from her family.  As women, learning through connections is powerful, and every woman’s story connects her to her land in special ways.  Once the women had grown more familiar with each other listening to Nancy’s story, we headed outside to follow naturalist, Jane Swift, towards the old hemlock sided barn. On the way, Jane pointed out some of the wild flowers and medicinal plants we saw just beyond Nancy’s front door. Up the hillside we went, following the old farm road bordered by open fields on one side and a steep, wooded ravine on the other.

Women go on a hike for a retreat

Nancy led us into the wooded ravine toward the creek, which borders her property. At the crest of the hill overlooking the creek, we paused to sit on an enormous bluestone bench that Nancy and her husband had brought to the property years ago. What a great spot for a photograph of the women forest landowners who gathered on this beautiful spring weekend!

Back on the trail, we met up with presenters Dr. Peter Smallidge, Extension Forester for Cornell Cooperative Extension, and Daniel Swift, Consulting Forester, both of whom were eager to show us important tools for invasive species control. Lined-up behind the open gate of the pick-up truck were several tools both men use frequently to manage invasive species on forested properties. After a brief demonstration, the women got to put on and try out propane torches and backpack herbicide sprayers. Some of the participants had used one or both of the tools; others had never tried them out before. We all agreed carrying them around in the field for several hours would be a challenging proposition!

After our ‘invasives lesson,’ we headed back down the hill for a short break. Nancy went inside to check on the ham we were having with our potluck dinner, and Peter and Dan got to work setting up for our next hands-on demonstration. In a recent storm, one of the black walnut trees on Nancy’s property had blown over and was lying along the edge of her yard in the perfect place for a small scale logging demonstration. With a diesel-engine ATV and logging arch perched on the hillside, Peter talked to the group about logging safety and reviewed the equipment he had brought along. He and Dan then cut a few logs off the downed tree, slowly winched one down into the arch, and then maneuvered the ATV and load down towards the group.

Once the larger logs were down off the hill, Peter and Dan loaded up a smaller diameter branch with the logging arch and parked it in the yard. From there Peter reviewed chainsaw safety and asked if anyone wanted to try sawing a few pieces off the log. Enthusiastic women geared up with chaps and hardhats. One after another, participants tried their hand at slicing cookies off the walnut branch, each under the careful supervision of Peter. As the sun started to set behind the hillside, we headed up the road to Nancy’s cousin’s place where we spent the night and had a delicious potluck meal.

After a much deserved night of rest, we gathered for a discussion led by Mike Hanawalt, District Manager for the Natural Resource Conservation Service, regarding cost-sharing and developing plans for privately owned forestlands. Mike answered questions about the cost share programs offered by NRCS and listened as women who had plans talked about the process. During the discussion on setting goals for their properties, one of the women who had attended the 2011 Women and Their Woods Educational Training and Retreat mentioned a conversation she had had with her husband after the event. “I asked my husband if he would be interested in having a wildlife biologist visit our property so we could plan to improve wildlife habitat. He said he wasn’t interested in the wildlife on the property, just enjoying the beauty of the land. I was shocked! I thought we were on the same page as for what goals we had for the property. Goes to show how important it is to ask these questions before setting out to develop a cost share plan.”

Participants plant native species of shrubs in rocky soil








One of projects in Nancy’s cost share plan involved tree and shrub planting along the edges of some open fields on the property. With the expertise of Dan and Mike, and Dan’s ATV and trailer filled with plants, water jugs, and tools, participants helped to plant several species of native shrubs in the rocky soil. Just before the skies started fill with dark clouds, we watered in the new plants and headed back to get cleaned-up for lunch.

The next Women and Their Woods Educational Retreat and Training will be held September 27-30, 2012 at Camp Susque in Trout Run, Lycoming County, PA. To receive information about the Women and Their Woods program, to be added to the mailing list, or to receive an application for the September training, please contact Amanda Subjin at the Delaware Highlands Conservancy by phone, 570-226-3164, or email [email protected]. More information about the program can also be found online at