Our Forests, Our Future: the ForestHer Initiative

By Hope V. Horton

The North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service is reaching out to women.  Why?  Of the 18 million acres of timberland in this state, 61% are privately owned and the percentage of women owners is rising.  But women are traditionally under-represented in the forestry field and may not have the perspectives, knowledge, and skills to effectively manage their forest lands. 

Enter….ForestHer NC!  Spearheaded by Debbie Roos of Chatham County’s Cooperative Extension Service, this initiative will include six workshops throughout the year in 3 different locations across the state.  The first offering in Pittsboro, which I attended, brought together sixty women (and a few men) to hear professionals from several state agencies present an overview of forest management from a variety of angles. 

But first…let’s take a quick look at a few fast facts about the Hart’s Mill forest: 

  • Hart’s Mill has about 88 (out of 112) acres of forested land
  • We have nearly 4 miles of trails winding through the entire site
  • Our soil types are favorable for both food and forest cultivation over the majority of our land
  • Over 50 tree/shrub species and 130 wildflower types have been identified to-date
  • We have had a Forest Stewardship Plan since 2013
  • Ten distinct areas, or stands, have been identified, each with their own qualities and characteristics
  • There’s an active forest thinning initiative, let by Randy Dodd, happening NOW to address our plan’s recommendations* (and we’re looking for volunteers!)

The current state of our woodlands is largely a result of our land-use history.  We believe that much of our forest was used as farmland decades ago.  In the late 1990’s, most of the re-grown forest was heavily cut over, burned, and re-planted in loblolly pines.  As the current stewards of this land, Hart’s Mill has the obligation and opportunity to take it from here, nourishing and enhancing  the course of our woodlands for generations to come.  

Fortunately, there are a lot of resources available to us as we consider possibilities.  Here is a taste of what I heard at the ForestHer workshop:  

Click here to read map legend

Mark Megalos of NCSU Extension Forestry gave an overview of North Carolina forests complete with geology, history, types, and trends.  Two fun facts that stayed with me are 1) the eastern edge of the Piedmont used to be coastland, and 2) there are no natural lakes in the Piedmont. Click here for a map of forest types across the state.

Nick Haffle of Chatham County MIS made us aware of the fantastic GIS resources available online by County to do property research and interpretation.  There’s a feast of information including parcel  maps, photographic and topographical data as well as legal information such as deeds, value, and tax status.  Curious about the Hart’s Mill land and environs?  Google Orange County Interactive GIS, input our address: 1023 Frazier Rd., Mebane, and start poking around. 

John Isenhour of NC Wildlife Resources Commission and Jennifer Roach from the NC Forest Service made it abundantly clear that the first step in forest “management” is to establish objectives and goals  and then review them from time-to-time.  What are we trying to achieve?  What concerns do we want to address?  Hart’s Mill’s Forest Stewardship Plan was coordinated by the Eno River Association in 2013 when Alana Ennis was the landowner.  This plan has enabled us to qualify for the Present Use Valuation tax status, which is a huge financial benefit.  We might want to review the objectives laid out at that time and see if they are still resonant with us.   

I also learned that there is such a thing as a Wildlife Management Plan.  This piqued my interest and I’ve been in touch now with someone at the NC Wildlife Resources Commission to talk about what this might involve (to the best of my knowledge, this plan is free of cost). 

This workshop helped me to see our forests with new eyes and be open to new possibilities.  And this is just the first of six workshops planned.**  If this piques your interest, click here for more information on the program, and be in touch—I’d love to have company! 

*Every volunteer is valuable!  If you are interested in helping out with the WWW (Wood-Wide Web) forest thinning initiative, keep your eye out for announcements on our monthly calendar. 

**There will be five more workshops in the next year in three different state locations (not listed on the website).  Each costs $25 and includes lunch (it was really good!).  The Pittsboro workshops will take place on November 7, March 12, May 14, August 13, and one TBA.  To get on the mailing list, email Debbie Roos of NC Cooperative Extension. 



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