Powerhouse: Chainsaw Course for Women Builds Skills, Confidence

Former Bur Oak AmeriCorps member Kate Reilly clears a hazard tree. Photo by Jason Taylor.

IOWA CITY – The derecho last August revealed a need for chainsaw skills. A new course offered by a local land trust aims to give participants those skills, especially women.

“Access to chainsaw trainings for anyone can be especially hard to come by due to high enrollment fees or location,” said Bur Oak Land Trust AmeriCorps Crew Leader Sarah Lawinger, “but access has the potential to be even more limited for some simply due to the nature of chainsaw work.”

Chainsaw Academy, a two-day course May 22-23 hosted by Bur Oak Land Trust will teach women basic sawyer skills including cutting techniques, evaluating environmental hazards, developing an appropriate cutting plan, and safely operating a chainsaw. The first session of the academy is offered to women only to allow for confidence-building with power tools.

“As a young woman first learning how to saw, it was especially intimidating to me to learn in front of men my age who already had some experience in chainsaw operation,” Lawinger said. “I hope a course taught for and by women can simply increase access and create a more comfortable atmosphere to best facilitate education for up-and-coming sawyers.”

Lawinger and fellow AmeriCorps crew leader Hannah Davey will lead participants through a day of in-class concepts and a day of in-field practice at one of Bur Oak’s properties. Both women were certified last summer as U.S. Forest Service sawyers and have served with the Land Trust since fall 2019 when the AmeriCorps program started.

“Since our program began, women have represented a majority of our AmeriCorps stewardship crew members, including our two crew leaders this year,” said Bur Oak Land Steward Carter Johnson. “Such strong representation and leadership by women sets our program apart in what I perceive to be a traditionally male-dominated field.”

The cost for the course is $35 with equipment and safety gear provided. For more information, visit https://buroaklandtrust.salsalabs.org/chainsaw.

“For women, believing they can do something,” Davey said is important. “Jobs that require the use of a chainsaw can be seen as ‘men’s work,’ but that is changing as more women become interested and build skills to fill those roles. Women shouldn’t think, ‘I can’t do that.’ They should absolutely try.”

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