Habitat & Conservation  |  01/12/2021

Women on the Wing: A Conservation Success Story

By Marissa Jensen

Conservation Outreach provides an opportunity to connect with landowners and operators alike and to share Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever’s mission. The Habitat Organization’s field team remains hard at work each year, providing quality opportunities and education for anyone interested in making conservation decisions on the landscape.

In 2018, the Women on the Wing initiative within the organization was officially founded, and with it, the opportunity to connect with even more women landowners and operators.  Across the country, there are approximately one million women farmers and ranchers who own one-third of all working lands. In addition to this, around 87 million acres are owned by non-operating women landowners.

However, women-focused conservation outreach events, in the form of workshops, lectures and one-on-one assistance, have been taking place within Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever long before Women on the Wing officially took root.
“Conservation outreach builds connections and leaders,” shares Julie Peterson, Farm Bill Biologist III for Wisconsin. “It’s a space within Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever to build relationships with women who are passionate about conservation, sustainability, habitat, and hunting. It’s an opportunity to build a network of women who support each other and their community.”

Our story begins in Wisconsin in 2015, when Pheasants Forever, the United States Department of Agriculture, and the Fox River Watershed Alliance hosted a Women Caring for the Land (a women’s-focused outreach program developed through the Women Food and Ag Network) meeting in the town of Appleton. During this event, landowner Ann Reed connected with her local Farm Bill biologist, which led to 17 acres enrolled into the USDA Conservation Reserve Program.

Reed, with the help of her local biologist, created a pollinator mix with over 20 different flowers, providing a food source for pollinators from April to October. Additionally, the seed mixture focused on grasses which would provide nesting habitat for songbirds and assist with water filtration on Reed’s property. The event and planting had such an impact on Reed, she hosted her own pollinator walk in 2017 for 20 landowners and resource professionals to share her story.

From Appleton, the team became inspired to coordinate an additional three Women Caring for the Land sessions that year. In 2016 meeting series, Pheasants Forever Farm Bill biologists were introduced to the Wisconsin Farmers Union and a vision for the future began to take shape. “Women Caring for the Land events should be a door held open for women landowners, to join the broader conversation and ag communities, where they may have felt uncomfortable previously. These events create a community for female landowners and operators to connect and ask questions, to have conversations with one another,” says Tally Hamilton, Wisconsin Farm Bill Biologist III.

Wisconsin’s Women Caring for the Land events have historically focused on everything from pollinator habitat, soil health, rotational grazing, and cover crops. “All of the meetings involved a wide network of women from the community who help women farmers, ranchers and landowners with financial and land decisions,” explains Peterson.

As the conservation outreach efforts continued to grow in the state, a special relationship developed between Pheasants Forever and the Wisconsin Farmers Union, leading to co-facilitated events across Wisconsin. This series of workshops would take place at local farmsteads where women had an opportunity to share their stories and learn from one another.

Additionally, this collaboration presented a unique opportunity for the field team in Wisconsin to share the mission of Pheasants Forever and the soon-to-be-created Women on the Wing initiative far beyond Wisconsin’s borders.

“The National Farmers Union invited our Wisconsin Pheasants Forever team and Wisconsin Farmers Union to share our experiences with co-hosting these events at the 2019 Farmers Union Women’s Conference in San Diego,” says Peterson. “At this conference, we shared Pheasants Forever’s story, summarized the success of Women Caring for the Land meetings, and facilitated a shortened example of these events with women from across the country. There were women in attendance from New York to Hawaii.”
From 2016 to 2018, the Pheasants Forever team in Wisconsin collaborated with partners such as Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES), Women Food and Ag Network (WFAN), Wisconsin Farmers Union, Natural Resources Conservation Services, Farm Service Agency, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and many more which led to 15 Women Caring for the Land events which gathered 325 participants.

However, it’s the individuals who make up those 325 participants who really show us the impact women’s focused conservation outreach programs are having.

There’s Donna Kehrmeyer, keeping the stewardship legacy alive by continue to farm and manage for wildlife after her husband Jim suddenly passed. She has since worked with resource professionals to plant prairie and pollinator habitat on her property.

Mary Ann and Reed Johnson, Lifetime Pheasants Forever members and wholesale flower farmers hosted the second Queen Bee meeting on their farm, an annual event hosted in partnership with Pheasants Forever and the USDA which focuses on pollinator habitat, soil health, and the transition of land.

Mary Brazeau Brown of Glacial Cranberry has since been awarded Pheasants Forever Faces of Wisconsin Conservation for her efforts building sedge meadows and quality habitat for wildlife such as swans and loons.

These are just a few of the many success stories that have taken place and continue to occur across Wisconsin.

“We’ve been able to share Pheasants Forever’s mission across the country. Most importantly, we’ve had the honor of empowering women to make decisions on their land which better reflect their land ethic,” shares Peterson.

And that’s what the habitat mission is all about.

Marissa Jensen is Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever's Education and Outreach Program Manager

For more information on Women on the Wing and Conservation Outreach efforts, visit the Women on the Wing web page, and continue to help support Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever’s habitat mission by becoming a member today.