The Piscataquis County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) in Maine is working with women to ensure they have the skills necessary to manage the state’s forestland.
In the past three years of developing and modifying the Chainsaw Safety for Women workshop, the conservation district has offered four sessions, three solely for women, and another in which at least half of the attendees were female.
“Many people in this county don’t have a house with a lawn,” said Kacey Weber, Piscataquis SWCD educational coordinator. “They have a house with wooded acreage, and our county has an aging population, so we were thinking, ‘How do we aid in getting people to work on their forested lands in constructive ways?’ We chose to serve women with this program, because we saw the need in this county.”
Piscataquis County is the second-largest county in the state, but it is among the least populated. Of its 17,500 people, 45 percent are over the age of 45; more than 17 percent are over age 65, and just under 10 percent are women living alone.
“Primarily, what we’re seeing are women who have lost their significant others, where they are left with acreage to care for,” said Weber. “And how can they do that when they’re struggling to find arborists and people to come out and help?”
In 2018, the conservation district developed the safety program with an eye on assisting those landowners. The initial course offered 15 slots, and the demand pushed the workshop into a second day, offering another full session to accommodate the number of women who signed up on the waiting list.
“That first year we saw an overwhelming ‘Yes, we need this,’” Weber said. “And that first year, we had men who came to us and said, `Hey, why don’t you do this for us, we need it, too.’ This is a program we’ve played with trying to meet the demand.”
The workshop provides a foundation for how to use a chainsaw, with varying starting levels for women who have used one in the past or are just picking one up for the first time. Some of the basics include terminology, personal protective equipment (PPE), chainsaw strip down to learn components and function, as well as putting it back together for use on a cut demonstration site. There, attendees go over and practice basic cuts.
Participants bring their own PPE and chainsaws and learn proper fitting and different chainsaw options for different management needs.
Last year, the conservation district opened the course to men and women. This year, they flipped back to women-only and expanded into a level two session, conducting the workshop over a weekend in September. The second level is hands-on, conducted in the woods, and focuses on working on several different situations that may be encountered when managing forests, including what to do if a tree is hung up and how to clear an area.
One person in attendance had experienced a tree hang up while cutting firewood, while another nearly broke a leg dealing with a spring pole incorrectly. A woman in her 70s had a storm ravage her forestland and no one to come help. Now, she’s “going to town on her property,” Weber said.
“We’re taking a variety of people from a variety of different situations and giving them information so they can go to their woods and operate safely in a way they need to,” she said. “The impact of this course is profound. It’s really empowering.”