Becoming the First Female Forester at Hammermill


In honor of Women’s History month, we spoke with Brenda Heindl, one of the first female foresters at Hammermill Paper Company, which was acquired by International Paper in 1986. Brenda told us her inspiring story of finding a career that would take her to forestlands across the US, as well as Canada and Russia. She became the first and only woman forester that Hammermill Southern Operations has ever had. Brenda shares her advice for women interested in forestry, and her knowledge on forest conservation.

What sparked your interest in becoming a forester?

Honestly, when I was finishing high school I had never heard of a forester. My HS college counselor – Ms. PK Faye – suggested I might like forestry. When I asked her, “What do foresters do” she told me, “They sit in fire towers.” To this day, I have never set foot in a fire tower.

Growing up in Virginia, I liked being outside – I rode horses and spent a lot of time at the farm, working with the horses, helping teach riding lessons, also swimming in the South Anna River and wandering through the woods either on foot or horseback. Growing up, I also liked math and science, which are both used a lot in the forestry field. In college at Virginia Tech I even took two quarters of organic chemistry as electives!

When I was in college I co-oped with the US Army Corps of Engineers as a forestry technician and this gave me a good feel for what was really involved in being a forester. I really enjoyed the work and so I continued to major in forest resource management and wildlife management at Virginia Tech.

When I was senior at Virginia Tech, four professors took about 15 students on a Spring Break trip to visit forest industry companies in the deep South (Alabama and Georgia) – Georgia Kraft (now IP Rome, GA), Union Camp (now IP Prattville, AL), Container Corp, MacMillan Bloedel (now IP Pine Hill, AL), and Kimberly-Clark. That trip resulted in me learning that Hammermill was hiring.

Describe why you enjoyed being a forester.

I had an opportunity to do such a variety of things and to see forestland across the United States, Canada and even Russia all under the umbrella of work and get paid for it! I told one of my first bosses I could not believe I was getting paid to do this and he said he could probably make some other arrangements.

I cruised timber, marked timber, bid on timber, managed thousands of acres of land, worked with loggers and other contractors, worked with non-industrial landowners to manage their lands, trapped beaver, drove a tractor, planted trees, sold tree seedlings, and sold utility poles.

I also enjoyed the variety of people I had the opportunity to meet and work with, either as International Paper co-workers, contractors, customers or fellow foresters working for other companies, or trade association folks.

How do foresters conserve forests?

First, it is important to make the distinction between preservation and conservation. People often confuse the two. Both terms involve a degree of protection, but how that protection is carried out is the key difference. Conservation is the sustainable use and management of natural resources including wildlife, water, air, and earth deposits to benefit people. The conservation of renewable resources like trees involves ensuring that they are not consumed faster than they can be replaced. Preservation, in contrast to conservation, attempts to maintain natural resources in their present condition by excluding management and any human activity.

Foresters conserve forests by using and managing forests while keeping forests healthy. If we do not have demand and use of paper and wood products there is no need for people to grow trees and have forests. It is just like if people stopped eating beef – no one would raise cows anymore. Typically, the way we lose forests is not due to forest industry activity but a result of agriculture and development. If the forest industry owns land they may cut the timber from time to time but they will keep that land growing trees so they have wood fiber to make their products.

What is your best advice for a woman who is interested in becoming a forester?

Go for it – you can do whatever you put your mind and heart into! Get on-the-job experience. Be open-minded and willing to work hard.

What is one aspect of forestry that you would like women to know about?

People need to know that there is a lot more to being a forester than you think. As I mentioned, when I was finishing high school, my high school college counselor suggested forestry as a major, and all she knew about forestry was that foresters sat in fire towers, or so she thought. If you are lucky enough to work for a company like International Paper, your forestry background can lead you to quite a variety of jobs – just about anything you want to do from forestry to finance to sales to logistics to IT and on and on.

Anything else you would like to add about forestry or being a woman forester?

I began my forestry career as a wood procurement forester for Hammermill Paper Company in Selma, AL, in 1982. I was the first and the only woman forester that Hammermill Southern Operations has ever had.

We hope you have enjoyed our interview with Brenda Heindl as much as we did. Are there any questions you wish we would have asked? Post a comment below, and don’t forget to sign up for our monthly newsletter.


Brenda Heindl has spent 35 years in forestry, and was the first and only woman forester at Hammermill Southern Operations. She received her bachelor’s degree in forestry from Virginia Tech, and then went on to Auburn University at Montgomery to receive her MBA in business administration and management. Brenda has maintained Sustainable Forestry Initiative®, Chain of Custody (SFI®, PEFC, FSC®), and the ISO 14001 certifications for more than thirty International Paper facilities. She developed and implemented an Environmental Compliance Management System for sixty International Paper woodyards, chip mills, tree nurseries, and seed orchards.