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Women in Forestry and Fire: Empowering Women through Land Management Education

Jennifer Fawcett at a prescribed burn site
Photo courtesy of Jennifer Fawcett.

In honor of Women’s History Month, we sat down with Jennifer Fawcett to talk about her work with women in fire and forestry. 

Jennifer works in Cooperative Extension Forestry in the Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources at NC State’s College of Natural Resources. She was recently awarded the University Outstanding Extension Service Award and is one of only three people this year to be inducted into the Academy of Outstanding Faculty Engaged in Extension.

Through her work with the Southeast Regional Partnership for Planning and Sustainability, Jennifer helps to lead a prescribed fire working group. The group’s main goal is to increase the use of prescribed fire throughout the Southeast. Her job involves many roles, including educating, training and working with landowners and writing publications.

More women are becoming landowners and the primary decision-makers for their land. They care about the impact of their land and want more opportunities to get involved. This is the core message of Women Owning Woodlands, or WOW, a large network dedicated to educating women in land stewardship.

NC State Extension and partners throughout the state recognized a need for more programming like this and created ForestHer NC. Jennifer works with ForestHer NC to provide forest and wildlife management workshops. Additionally, she coordinates forestry programming throughout North Carolina through Extension Forestry, providing classes on chainsaw use and pollinator species. “It has been so fun to be on a planning team primarily comprised of women,” she said. “In our field, that rarely happens, but I’ve really enjoyed the experience and have made a lot of new friends along the way.”

The feedback from these workshops has been overwhelmingly positive. Many women feel empowered by meeting other women in their field. The classes also give women a starting point, providing them with the necessary skills to become responsible stewards of forests across North Carolina. As one attendee noted, “women together are powerful and managing land is so transgenerational.”

Jennifer also plans events for the Women-in-Fire Training Exchange (WTREX). This program trains women from all around the world in prescribed burning and empowers them to do it themselves. They get the opportunity to learn from one another in a field that is traditionally dominated by men. “It has been exciting for me to see the transformation that has taken place among many of the women attending these events,” Jennifer said. “They leave feeling more empowered and equipped with new knowledge, and I’m proud to have played some small part in that.”

The goal of these training sessions is to outfit women with as much hands-on experience as possible. However, participants also gain skills in communication, diversity and leadership. Jennifer notes that the sessions truly allow everyone to learn from each other, as “everybody is a trainer and a trainee.” The women who attend continue into a variety of careers that build on what they learned in training, and Jennifer has seen some of their lives “completely change,” she said. Many of the program’s participants go into leadership roles, including becoming burn bosses, one of the highest roles on the operational side of prescribed burning.

More people are realizing the importance of this programming and the demand for it is growing. Jennifer already has multiple events planned in the near future, including a two-week Women in Fire Training Exchange in Virginia and an overnight retreat for women landowners. Overall, she’s excited to continue working in this area and supporting women in fire and forestry.