Forester Lelde Vilkriste is from Latvia, and is visiting the United States for a 10-month tour to explore private-sector forestry education. She visited with Washington State DNR and WSU Extension foresters in January and shared this story about developing a field day for women.
Why hold a special forest field day for women?
There are about 140,000 family owners in Latvia and about 40 percent of them are women. Although several surveys of forest owners indicated that men and women were equally interested in forest management, female participation in field days and seminars was significantly lower. In addition, women participants were much less active in discussions.
The importance of gender issues in forestry was pointed out in the Nordic countries in the last decades of the last century, leading to an international symposium and establishment of several “Women in Forestry” working groups. Based on information obtained from the Swedish Forest Agency, the first seminar for woman forest owners in Latvia was held in 2005.
Was something special organised for this field day?
This field day was organized like all others, starting with classroom discussions of forest management and regulations. Several forest sites were then visited to discuss tending and thinning issues and evaluate results of previous regeneration and timber harvesting options. What was different was the women’s enthusiastic response to the field day announcements and invitations. Registrations were more than four times higher than what is usual for ‘mixed’ field days. The event received very high ratings by participants. The second most important factor mentioned after increased knowledge was the contact with other women forest landowners.
What lessons were learned?
The success of this field day demonstrated these women had high interest in forestry topics but valued an appropriate and comfortable learning environment. It is necessary to mention that there are a lot of elderly and absentee female forest owners in Latvia and it is not easy for them to bring forward their questions in an audience dominated by skilled and practically-oriented men.
General observations of the instructors were that women forest owners were interested in the same topics, but occasionally in a different context and sometimes including more knowledge of ancestral customs. Demonstrations of thinning and harvesting equipment were extremely popular, and nobody was prepared for the very large interest in technical tools and information. Women also were more interested in environmental issues and non-timber products or wildlife, but there is no specific curriculum for this currently available.
There are many similarities between the private forest sectors in the U.S. and Latvia. Family forestry in Latvia is represented by a great number of landowners with small properties (20 acres average) and the average age of landowners is over 55 years. In both countries, environmental values have become more and more important not only to landowners, but also to the general public. Women are at the front of the growing realization that forestry is not only about timber. If they are to become more involved in providing sustainable management and increasing biological value, foresters will need to support this wish with appropriate tools and outreach.
By Lelde Vilkriste
Latvian State Forest Research Institute ‘Silava’