What do home and family, legacy, taxes, mushrooms, leadership, chainsaws and "Logger Lingo" have in common? Trees and women! Literally, women talking about trees!

What started as a great idea - bringing women woodland owners together around Sand Lake water-quality issues - has developed into a monthly gathering to learn, share and build relationships among women who care about their natural environment.

It's the fellowship of these women and similar groups throughout the United States that led to the creation of the Minnesota Women's Woodland Network (MN WWN).

The MN WWN was developed because women are important to the future of Minnesota's woodlands and natural resources. Forty-five percent of America's woodlands are owned by individuals older than 65. Because women tend to live longer than men, many inherit land that they may have little involvement, knowledge or interest in managing.

Meanwhile, mothers (and fathers) are concerned about keeping the woodland intact and in the family. Daughters, frequently overlooked for sons in woodland management decisions, are recognizing their attachment to the family woodland and are becoming more engaged. And women, in general, are increasingly becoming woodland owners on their own or in partnerships through purchase or inheritance.

As a forester actively involved with woodland owners for a number of years, I find it increasingly evident that women are becoming more active in woodland management and are ever more concerned about the legacy of their woodland. But often they don't know whom to turn to for help or they are uncomfortable with the traditionally male-dominated classes and profession.

Being on the steering committee for the MN WWN gives me the chance to provide networking opportunities for women woodland owners to learn from and support each other, to foster a learning environment that encourages women to participate in woodland management education, and to connect women with valuable resources and knowledgeable professionals (primarily women) to help them on their journey of caring for their woodland. I also help women recognize the important role they play as woodland owners.

I lead the Metro Area Minnesota Women's Woodland Network, with members who own from fewer than 5 acres to more than 250 acres. (Personally, I own two trees on a postage-stamp lot in St. Paul.) Members include women in the natural resources profession and women interested in buying woodland.

We've learned about trees and wildflowers; toured a major tree nursery; shared books and resources; and learned how to safely use a chainsaw. And we have gathered at a restaurant to discuss sustainable harvest and timber sales.

So, the next time you see a group of women enjoying a good meal and a lively conversation, don't assume they're talking TV and kids - they could be talking trees!

Barb Spears is an urban forester/SAF Certified Forester in St. Paul. She leads the Metro Area MN WWN and the Minnesota Forestry Association Metro Chapter.

The Minnesota Women's Woodland Network link is associated with MyMinnesotaWoods.org at tinyurl.com/k5smakf

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