Sharing the perspectives of women landowners and managers in New Hampshire as part of the Women in the Woods project.

Gail Wigler and Katie Stuart standing by a tree in the winter

Women in the Woods is a collaboration between UNH Cooperative Extension, NH Timberland Owners Association, the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, and other partners aimed at connecting women forest landowners, managers, and stewards with the resources, skills, and community they need to make informed stewardship decisions that promote healthy forest resources. As part of this effort, we are sharing the perspectives of women landowners and managers in New Hampshire.

Names: Gail Wigler and Katie Stuart

Acres owned:  We own 224 acres jointly and manage it as Crow Mountain Farm, LLC. Separately, Gail also owns two adjacent parcels totaling 33 acres, and Katie owns an adjacent parcel that is approximately 13 acres.

Town: Shelburne, NH

When did you acquire your land and how? What is the story of how you came to be landowners?

The lands were acquired at different times; Katie first purchased the 13 acres in 2015 and Gail purchased the two adjoining parcels (33 total acres) in 2016. We jointly purchased the 224-acre parcel in 2017 which has an old farm house built on it when Thomas Jefferson was President. We rent the farm house which covers some of the repairs, taxes, and insurance. We formed a partnership LLC in early 2018 (our first business for both of us).

Aside from the 13 acres that Katie bought, these lands were purchased from Ben and Betty Werner and their daughters. Betty and Ben had purchased the majority of the land in 1960 when they decided they needed a part-time residence away from the stress of Long Island where Ben was a professor of anthropology. When they moved to Shelburne full time in 1964 with their two daughters, they made their living sheep farming and selling antiques. After Ben’s passing, Katie encouraged Betty to volunteer at the White Mountain National Forest Service district office, and she worked with us at the Forest Service office in Gorham. Katie and Gail are both Foresters by training. Both Betty and Ben had a strong conservation ethic, and Betty placed a conservation easement on most of her property in 2013. Upon Betty’s passing in 2016, both daughters (who lived out of state/country), wanted the property to go to people who shared their parent’s love and passion for the land, and who had the same strong principles of protecting wildlife habitat.

"While neither of us could afford to buy Crow Mountain farm separately, we decided to make a joint offer which they accepted."

We are the very fortunate individuals whom their daughters entrusted to be stewards of the lands their parents loved. We are also fortunate that some of the abutting property has been placed in a conservation easement protecting a larger landscape which will be forever free from development and available for wildlife habitat and visitor enjoyment.

Do you have a favorite memory from your land?

Gail: It’s a memory that happens every spring: witnessing the return of Canadian geese who nest and raise their young on islands in the Androscoggin River bordering our lands. It’s such a joy and privilege to walk along the river watching pairs of geese swimming in the waters with their hatchlings trailing behind them.

Katie: I don't think I have just one favorite memory but similar to Gail’s thoughts, I love watching the beaver that have established bankside homes in the River adjacent to Crow Mountain Farm. They are such beautiful and industrious animals and they add a sense of mystery and wildness to my experience of the farm and the river. I also placed a game camera on the land at a trail juncture last winter and captured night time videos of fox, coyote, and bobcat!

What are some ways that you connect with your land? What do you like to do on your land?

Gail: It’s very basic, I just love walking, snowshoeing and skiing on the trails observing the stages of forest development throughout the seasons.

"It’s the anticipation seeing the first lady slipper and listening for the arrival of migratory birds in spring, and identifying animal tracks in winter."

If I’m lucky, I may catch sight of fox, deer, moose, bear, eagles and herons that rely on our mature forest as a refuge from surrounding intense logging operations. And every summer I keep track of the acorn and cone production to ensure our forested lands continue to regenerate and produce wildlife habitat benefits.

Katie: Just like Gail, for me it is experiencing the joy and being in nature that arrives with each season. One year we flagged every lady slipper along a particular trail to anecdotally determine if the next year’s lady slipper came up in the exact same spot. We flagged over 80 lady slippers! I hike, snowshoe, or ski on our trails almost every day and always bring my dogs who love snuffling through the leaves and racing freely through the woods. Sometimes I hike to the top of the Crow’s Nest to take in the breathtaking scenery of Shelburne’s valley and the Carter-Moriah and Presidential mountain ranges. Each day brings a new adventure and a sense of gratitude for being a part of this land.

What are some challenges or learning opportunities that owning your land has presented you?

Gail: Both Katie and myself have over 30+ years of experience working as professional foresters and understand the complexity and responsibility of sustainable forest management. The two big challenges I see are: 1) controlling invasive species such as barberry which is spreading along the banks of the Androscoggin River. The root system is extremely deep and almost impossible to dig by hand and I won’t use chemical treatments being so close to the water, so invasive treatment options are very limited. 2) The other challenge is poor forest management and high grading harvest practices on many of the adjacent lands resulting in degraded forests with little habitat value. This practice reduces forest connectivity and increases animal population densities on islands of mature forests. As foresters, we appreciate the value of well managed forests but the very extensive harvesting surrounding our property has led us to lean toward a mature and old growth forest condition while maintaining one opening in a meadow.

Katie: As Gail mentioned, invasive species are a problem in the areas adjacent to the Androscoggin River. We are lucky in that most of our land does not have this problem, but we see it creeping or even leaping across the landscape and are very aware of its devastating impact on native plants and animals. We are also exploring placing some of the property in a carbon program which is an ongoing learning experience for both of us. If we go ahead with the carbon program, it would help us pay some of the ongoing taxes, insurance, and maintenance costs.

What excites you about your land in the future?

Gail: Just watching the forest grow and develop through natural succession. Yes, there will be mortality from age, insects, disease and weather but that provides opportunities to observe tree regeneration in response to natural stressors and observe wildlife benefits from standing and down snags.

Katie: Since we have a conservation easement on most of the property, it is permanently protected from development and has joined other lands in our town that are permanently protected. It excites me to know that it will never become a housing development, a parking lot, or a shopping mall, and that it will always be available for wildlife as well as the occasional hiker or visitor to enjoy and experience nature the way that we can. It may someday have a harvest on part of it, and if so, it would follow the forest management plan, be conducted sustainably, and have oversight by the conservation easement holder. We know that this land will always be protected and safeguarded by the conservation easement held by our local land trust which means it will always have a future as a forest.

What does your land mean to you?

Gail: The land is my sanctuary and escape from stress and sadness. Prior to buying my first parcel of land, my mother had a debilitating stroke and my sister was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had such deep sadness within me and no way to release it. Purchasing the land and walking every day with my dog provided clarity and acceptance. It took my mind off the sadness and allowed me to go beyond my problems and see the beauty in nature. It cleared my mind and allowed me to put everything in perspective. The land was the outlet I needed to get through my grief after my mother’s passing.

Katie: My passion is protecting land from development and I work on our local conservation commission and nearby regional land trust where I can contribute toward even more land conservation and stewardship. When Gail and I acquired this land in 2017, it was a dream come true as I had always wanted to own land since I was a kid. If it hadn’t already had a conservation easement on it, we would have placed one on it. My husband and I live just down the road from Crow Mountain Farm and it is my daily refuge from the stresses of the world we live in.

"When I go to the woods I am rejuvenated and healed by being in nature and I’d like to think that Gail and I are stewarding the land for nature and the generations who come behind us."

If there was one thing you could share with other women landowners, what would it be?

Gail: There is nothing stopping you from being a proficient land manager. There are many resources available to teach yourself how to manage your forested lands in the form of webinars, literature, natural resource agencies (UNH cooperative extension and NCRS), Society of American Forester meetings, land trusts, conservation commissions, and other natural resource specialists who are available to provide support for sustainable forest management. I’ve been in the forestry profession for over 30 years and it’s no longer considered a “man’s” field; there are many talented and dedicated women foresters who are very supportive of having more women enter this profession.

Katie: Gail and I have created a partnership where we both passionately believe in conservation and taking care of the land.

"Our partnership has allowed us to work together and achieve mutual goals while sharing the costs and benefits of jointly owning our land. I would like to think there are many other women who could similarly pool their resources and vision and become land owners and conservationists."

Besides my family and my dogs, Crow Mountain Farm gives such immeasurable joy and wonder that stays with me day after day. I would wish that joy and wonder on other women landowners or women who are aspiring to be future landowners.

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Extension Field Specialist, Forest Resources
Phone: (603) 862-3883
Office: Cooperative Extension, Nesmith Hall Room 224, Durham, NH 03824