What problem/s are you working to solve?
As part of the Alternative Futures research team, I am helping to build stakeholder-driven models of land use in Maine. Basically, we want to know from conservationists, foresters, farmers and developers what makes land best suited to their missions.
Once we get a better understanding of stakeholders’ needs and land-use suitability, we can begin to identify areas where land uses will likely overlap. For instance, where do forestry and conservation assets co-occur? What areas are most at risk for development and have high conservation value?
We can then model multiple scenarios to estimate what might happen in the future. For example, what if Mainers started getting a significant amount of their food locally because of sharply rising transportation costs? Would land suddenly be more valuable for farming than for housing? Or what if we all heated our homes with wood—could Maine support active forest management in and around more communities?
What progress are you making toward solutions?
We are about to launch our first land use suitability maps for the Lower Penobscot River Watershed region. In another project, we have been developing a time-series of forest conservation in Maine and northern New England. So far, we have fit together the pieces for about 90 percent of the conservation puzzle. It is pretty amazing to watch an animation showing conservation happening from well before the White Mountain National Forest was established in the early 20th century to the latest addition to Baxter State Park. Every place we love is a bit of our conservation history.
The time-series animation project will help us better understand the role different conservation models have played in our history. We can look at what the current and future land use suitability maps suggest to help make strategic recommendations about where conservation efforts are most needed.
How could your findings contribute to a more sustainable future in Maine and beyond?
As development pressures increase and Maine’s demographic changes through time, land use pressures shift. By investigating alternative future conditions under multiple land use and demographic scenarios, we hope to be able to help land use planners better match policy tools and economic incentives to the changing needs of Mainers.
People tend to be wary of change, but if we don’t plan for it, we may not get the outcomes that best suit our overall needs. If our models and projections help even one community decide how to balance economic development with open space conservation, this project will be a success.
Why did you decide to join SSI?
My background is in sustainable forest management. I spent several years working with the large landowners of Maine on all sorts of forest research challenges. I recently decided to shift gears to try to make sense of how every individual conservation project fits into the bigger context of landscape-scale conservation. This interest fits nicely into SSI’s triple bottom line approach to sustainability, including social, environmental and economic issues.
I also love Maine—I’ve been here for almost a decade now and I didn’t see any reason to leave since an ideal opportunity presented itself right here.
What’s the best part about collaborating on SSI research projects?
Through SSI, I have the chance to work with impressive researchers and communicators, faculty and fellow grad students alike. They come from all kinds of disciplines, but surprisingly, we are all working toward similar objectives. I had a liberal arts background before coming to Maine, but this kind of cross-discipline work is not very common in research.
Where’s your favorite place in Maine?
I spend a lot of time exploring obscure parts of Baxter State Park. I don’t have any one favorite place there, but I do enjoy seeking different vantage points of Baxter Peak on Katahdin. If I told you about my “other” favorite place, the campsite might not be empty next time I paddle there…
What’s your ultimate Maine experience?
Spending several days with my family and close friends touring the Maine Woods on skis while marveling at all of nature’s oddities. There is a lot of time for contemplating our role in nature on such trips, and I inevitably get lost in philosophical mind-benders, only to get showered with fresh snow falling from a spruce and jerked back to reality.
Mud season survival strategy?
You must be referring to that narrow window when firewood stacking and whitewater paddling overlap…
What sustains you?
Good citizenship, forward progress, and a periodic dose of adventure.
Additional Information on Spencer and his SSI Team
Image Description: Spencer Meyer