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Forestry celebrates women in government with Learn and Burn

ATMORE — In celebration of Woods to Goods Week, the Alabama Forestry Association (AFA) held a series of events across the Yellowhammer State in recognition of the state’s $28 billion industry.

Yellowhammer News was provided access to a two-day event at the close of last week in Monroe and Escambia counties, which highlighted the role women play in government through forestry.

At a reception hosted by the AFA last Thursday at Wind Creek Casino & Hotel in Atmore, attendees were graced with the presence of philanthropist and former State Sen. Ann Bedsole (R-Mobile).

Former State Sen. Ann Bedsole is interviewed during an event celebrating her 90th birthday in Jan. 2020. (WKRG/YouTube)

Bedsole, whose family holds deep ties to the robust forest industry, became the first woman elected to the Alabama Senate in 1983 after four years of service in the Legislature’s lower chamber.

She worked at her family’s sawmill in the Clarke County town of Jackson as a teenager. During her service in the Senate, the young 92-year-old legend would have the opportunity to further impact the industry as chair of the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee.

At the reception, AFA president and CEO Chris Isaacson recognized Bedsole for her service to the state and contributions to Alabama’s forestry community.

(Alabama Forestry Association/Contributed)

Attendees arrived Friday morning at Little River State Forest for a Learn and Burn, hosted by Alabama Forestry Commission officials.

Before briefing his audience on the importance of prescribed burning, Isaacson detailed the strength of Alabama’s timberland industry.

“Two-thirds of the state is covered in forest, so that’s about 23 million acres. It is a very healthy forest. And because of that, an incredibly strong industry is grown up around that,” said Isaacson. “Our forest products industry generates about $28 billion of economic activity every year. In many parts of rural Alabama, it is the largest employer.”

Alabama’s forest industry is strong due to proper timber management, according to Isaacson.

“We are currently growing more than 70% more timber every year than we’re harvesting. If you take a look at how much wood we consume every year, it’s right at 40 million tons,” he said. “If we stopped growing trees, if everything just stopped where it is today, we could continue that $28 billion in economic activity for 30 years. We’ve got an incredibly vibrant and abundant resource. That doesn’t happen by chance.

“If you leave something growing on its own, it’s going to eventually die. So it has to be managed. What we’re doing today is one of the key tools that we have to manage those forests.”

Special recognition was given to the women of AFA, who Isaacson said perform invaluable services for the association and its membership.

Staff members representing AFA during the Learn and Burn were Anna Morgan Duke, Jordan McCurdy and Ashley Smith. The Alabama Forestry Foundation was represented by Autumn Watrous and Leigh Peters. The Forest Workforce Training Institute (ForestryWorks) staff was represented by Stephanie Fuller and Maggie Pope.

With torch-in-hand, the women were set to blaze trails.

(Dylan Smith/YHN)

Former State Rep. Connie Rowe (R-Jasper), who serves as senior advisor to Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth, said she “had no idea” of the significant role forestry played in Alabama prior to serving in the Legislature.

“Learn and Burn was an opportunity to learn about the management of our woodland. It was a great hands on experience,” Rowe told Yellowhammer News. “The boots on the ground concept of learning — the heat of the fire, the smell of the smoke, watching the fires merge and seeing how the plowed firebreaks controlled the burn — made it much easier to wrap your head around the process than a classroom experience could have.

“Forestry certainly seems to offer career paths for both men and women. It may have been a male-dominated profession, but female foresters were well represented during our training experience. That’s great. If you want to go to the woods, go to the woods. Don’t let your womanhood get in the way of following your dreams.”

(Dylan Smith/YHN)

State Sen. April Weaver (R-Brierfield) told Yellowhammer News she was grateful to have partaken in the AFA’s prescribed burning.

“My legislative district has a large forestry industry presence, so I appreciated the intensive, hands-on education that the ‘Women in the Woods Legislative Learn & Burn’ program provided,” said Weaver. “Alabama has one of the largest and most active timber industries in the nation, and it will prove crucial to helping our state weather the Biden recession that many economists say has already started.”

(Alabama Forestry Association/Contributed)

Alabama Supreme Court Justice Kelli Wise said she came away with “a better appreciation” of the inner workings of forest management.

“It was such a privilege to recently take part in the Alabama Forestry Association ‘Women in the Woods’ program held at Little River State Park,” said Wise. “I especially enjoyed the opportunity to learn more about the forestry industry alongside a group of amazing women from both the public and private sector who eagerly traded in their high heels for boots and work gloves.”

She added, “I gained valuable, hand-on information about what goes into the planning, implementation, and monitoring of a prescribed burn, as well as a better appreciation of how our state foresters maintain and protect our greatest natural resource. Our foresters may not wear capes, but they are superheroes!”

Proper maintenance of the state’s forest population is “vital to our future,” Wise told Yellowhammer News.

“Alabama is blessed with an abundance of forests which cover more than 60% of our state and provide our citizens with thousands of jobs, a cleaner environment, recreational activities, and serve as a habitat for fish and wildlife. The maintenance and conservation of our forests is vital to our future, and I encourage young people, especially women, to consider a career in the forestry industry,” she concluded.

State Rep. Margie Wilcox (R-Mobile) and House District 45 GOP nominee Susan DuBose also partook in the Learn and Burn.

Women occupying prominent roles in state government who participated in the controlled burn were:

  • Casey Rogers, Office of Gov. Kay Ivey
  • Connie Rowe, Office of Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth
  • Hope Brasell, Office of Senate President Pro Tem Greg Reed
  • Melissa Tindol, Office of Senate President Pro Tem Greg Reed
  • Laura Jean McCurdy, Alabama Department of Agriculture & Industries
  • Tami Culver Allen, Alabama Department of Agriculture & Industries
  • Caroleene Dobson, Alabama Forestry Commissioner

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has been updated.

Dylan Smith is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @DylanSmithAL

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