IN OCTOBER 2022, nearly 500 forestry and forest-products professionals who identify as women and nonbinary gathered in Minneapolis for the Women’s Forest Congress — the first forest congress to take place in almost 50 years. They gathered after years of planning to address challenges, improve storytelling and empower female leadership within the forestry sector.

American Forests has led or co-led all seven previous forest congresses, which bring together decisionmakers from all walks of life on no set schedule. They are planned ad hoc according to themes identified as urgent by forestry leaders. When a group of female professionals had a conversation about the need to change the narrative surrounding forestry and the dynamic of conferences within the sector, the idea for a women’s forest congress was born.

Beattra Wilson, U.S. Forest Service assistant director of the Urban and Community Forestry Program (far right), moderated the “With the Tip of the Iceberg, We Will Crack the Ceiling” panel, including (from L to R): Hilary Franz, Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) commissioner; Heather Berklund, Wisconsin DNR Division of Forestry chief state forester; and Patty Thielen, Minnesota DNR state forester and division of forestry director.
Photo Credit: Yvonne Gougelet / Event Photography of North American Corporation

“Movement building is recognizing when the moment is starting,” said Ara Erickson, Women’s Forest Congress steering committee member. As the movement gained traction, organizers started looking for an entity that could help provide resources and behind-the-scenes assistance. “We needed an organization that would let other people lead and allow the Women’s Forest Congress to stand on its own.”

With American Forests’ emphasis on servant leadership, it was a natural pairing, and soon American Forests’ Chief Strategy Officer Becky Turner joined the Congress’ steering committee to assist with convening the event.

In Minneapolis, attendees from across the globe — from college students to retirees — heard career testimonials, participated in networking and led informative breakout sessions. American Forests’ staff hosted a booth on career pathways in urban and community forestry to better inform attendees of potential job opportunities in the field. At the event’s conclusion, attendees vowed to uphold a declaration of resolutions and a shared commitment to advance those actions among their organizations, networks, partnerships and spheres of influence.

“From the women who came before and paved the way, to where we are now and the leaders who are setting the example for the future of forestry, the Women’s Forest Congress connected inspiring women, all working toward a better future,” said Gisel Garza, American Forests’ project manager for the Rio Grande Valley.

American Forests had a strong presence at the conference, including (from L to R): KP Parrish, senior director of media relations; Kara Ball, senior director of strategic partnerships; Sarah Mitchell, senior director of individual philanthropy; Becky Turner, Esq., chief strategy officer; Sara Kangas, director of policy communications; Britta Dyer, senior director of California and Pacific islands; Julie Foster, senior manager of US Chapter; Tia Washington, senior manager of career pathways; and Gisel Garza, project manager for the Rio Grande Valley.
Photo Credit: Yvonne Gougelet / Event Photography of North American Corporation