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Senator George J. Mitchell Center & Maine's Sustainability Solutions Initiative

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Mitchell Center Researcher Sarah Nelson in BDN – Good News for Maine Lakes

In an August 15 article in the Bangor Daily News, Mitchell Center researcher Sarah Nelson and her colleague Steve Kahl of Unity College discuss a decades-long study that reveals good news for Maine lakes. The study found that lakes in Maine and New England are recovering much faster from the effects of acid rain than expected. The results of the study, “Decadal Trends Reveal Recent Acceleration in the Rate of Recovery from Acidification in the Northeastern U.S.” were published online in March on the Environmental Science & Technology website.

See full Bangor Daily News article…

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Seeing Forests Through the Trees

In a recent UMaine News story, SSI Ph.D. graduate Spencer Meyer discusses the rapid increase in land protection in northern New England from 1999-2010. Meyer’s research team, which included Christopher Cronan, School of Biology and Ecology, Robert Lilieholm, School of Forest Resources, David Foster, Harvard University and fellow Ph.D. graduate Michelle Johnson, studied the socioeconomic and policy factors that influenced the rate, type and distribution of land protection.

The team’s findings are reported in “Land conservation in northern New England: Historic trends and alternative conservation futures,” published in May in Biological Conservation.

See full UMaine story here…

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Maine Reaps Benefits of 50-Year-Old Water Resources Research Act

The Maine Water Resources Research Institute (WRRI), a program of the Senator George J. Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions, joins the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), stakeholders and academic partners in recognizing the importance of the pivotal Water Resources Research Act (WRRA) on it’s 50th anniversary.

Signed into law by in 1964 President Lyndon B. Johnson, the WRRA established a research institute or WRRI in each state and Puerto Rico. In his official statement, President Johnson said the WRRA “will enlist the intellectual power of universities and research institutes in a nationwide effort to conserve and utilize our water resources for the common benefit. The new centers will be concerned with municipal and regional, as well as with national water problems. Their ready accessibility to state and local officials will permit each problem to be attacked on an individual basis, the only way in which the complex characteristics of each water deficiency can be resolved… The Congress has found that we have entered a period in which acute water shortages are hampering our industries, our agriculture, our recreation, and our individual health and happiness.”

Maine’s WRRI “provides leadership and support to help solve Maine’s water problems by supporting researchers and educating tomorrow’s water scientists. Our goal is to generate new knowledge that can help us maintain important water resources,” said John Peckenham, Director of the institute and Associate Director and Senior Research Scientist at the Mitchell Center. See more on this story

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Sustainability Science in Action: Can Citizens Help Manage Herring Fisheries?

Jeff Lord concedes he does a lot of sitting, watching and waiting along the herring ladder at Highland Lake. But when gangs of alewives begin to leap and flop their way upriver from Mill Brook, his patience is well rewarded.

“It can get a little boring, so I really appreciate when there is action,” the Falmouth resident said as he gazed at the rushing waters. “It’s a chance to put my biology background to work at something that matters.”

Lord and about 13 other volunteers keep count of migrating herring, mainly alewives, as they make their way up fish ladders to traditional freshwater spawning areas. The newly established volunteer monitoring program is a joint research project of UMaine and University of Southern Maine (USM). Scientists want to see if volunteers can help government managers and university researchers amass important data on spring run alewife – something likely too expensive to accomplish otherwise.

The role of citizen science in sustainable river herring harvest is the focus of a $96,600 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Growing out of a project at UMaine’s Sustainability Solutions Initiative (SSI), a program of the Senator George J. Mitchell Center, the overall goals are threefold:

See more on this story

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Some Landowners Embrace Sustainability, Some Don’t – SSI Examines Why

Why do some landowners embrace sustainability and conservation in their environs while others ignore these concepts altogether? This was one of the main questions Michael Quartuch explored in his doctoral research at UMaine’s Sustainability Solutions Initiative (SSI).

It’s a complex query. As part of SSI’s People, Landscape and Communities team (PLACE), Quartuch, a recent PhD graduate of SSI and UMaine’s School of Forest Resources, wanted to know what lurked beneath the surface of land use decision-making.

“At a broad level, my research focused on understanding and predicting the ways in which humans interact with and shape the surrounding environment. I was very interested in identifying why people are motivated to act sustainably. Specifically, I wanted to explore whether and to what degree landowner stewardship ethics influence individual land use decisions. Similarly, I wanted to test the role landowner place attachment and sense of community play in terms of influencing behavior,” Quartuch said.

Led by Kathleen Bell and Jessica Leahy, the PLACE team studied small landowners in Maine to develop solutions on key fronts. The team surveyed landowners in an effort to better understand their concerns, attitudes, and behaviors. The responses are helping the team to identify outputs of interest to landowners and key stakeholders who frequently interact with them, including local businesses and local and state governments. See more on this story

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Seeking Postdoctoral Research Associate (Estuarine Modeler)

A position is available for a Postdoctoral Research Associate (Estuarine Modeler) on the NEST Safe Beaches and Shellfish Project. The successful candidate will work as a member of an interdisciplinary team developing and implementing estuarine-coastal models to investigate the interaction between estuarine conditions and bacterial pollution. To see job details or apply, please visit the UMaine Employment website.

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Despite Critiques, Environmental Law Scholars Support Interdisciplinary Research

Among environmental researchers, the challenges of interdisciplinary engagement have become a hot topic. The participants in that discussion range from environmental economists to communications specialists to ecologists. Yet the literature says hardly anything about the potential role of law. Meanwhile, the legal world has been engaged in its own debates about interdisciplinary research. Many participants in those debates – including the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court – have questioned the usefulness of such collaboration.

In a forthcoming article in the journal Ecology Law Quarterly, Dave Owen, Professor in the University of Maine School of Law, and Caroline Noblet, Assistant Professor in UMaine’s School of Economics, argue that we should take a different view of environmental law’s role in interdisciplinary research. To environmental non-lawyers, the core pitch is simple: environmental law researchers could play an important role on your research team, particularly if you hope your research will lead to policy change. And to skeptical lawyers, the authors offer some reassurance that interdisciplinary engagement can help improve legal practice, teaching, and research.  See more on this story

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SSI Post-doctoral Fellow Christine Lamanna Tackles Disappearing Plants Mystery

Plants that grow in alpine environments are often the proverbial “canary in the coal mine” when it comes to climate change. A number of plants have disappeared from Acadia National Park despite being protected for nearly a century. Climate change is the prime suspect. Christine Lamanna, a post-doctoral fellow at the Mitchell Center’s Sustainability Solutions Initiative (SSI), is working with stakeholders and citizen scientists to figure out what this means for the future of native plants.

Working as part of the Effects of Climate Change on Organisms (ECCO) team at SSI, LaManna and a diverse working group including citizen volunteers, is conducting research at Acadia to find out why 20 percent of the park’s plant species have disappeared since the late 1800s. Additionally, Lamanna is creating maps predicting how important species in the state may respond to future climate change – and how those changes could affect the state economically, culturally and ecologically. See more on this story

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Scholarly Article: Vernal Pools Conservation Calls for Diverse Perspectives

A new article in the Proceedings of the Academy of Sciences (PNAS) documents nearly 15 years of crucial, dynamic vernal pools research and management by UMaine’s Aram Calhoun who is leading an interdisciplinary team at the Sustainability Solutions Initiative (SSI), a program of the Mitchell Center.

In the article, published this week online at, Calhoun and three coauthors analyze a timeline of action and scholarship that spans from 1999 to the present. In that time, the Professor of Wetland Ecology and Director of UMaine’s Ecology and Environmental Sciences Program has collaborated closely with academic colleagues, government at all levels, non-governmental organizations, landowners, developers and concerned citizens in an effort to create an environment in which these small, but significant, wetlands can flourish in all their biological diversity.

The article’s co-authors and SSI collaborators are Jessica S. Jansujwicz, a SSI post-doctoral fellow, Kathleen P. Bell, Associate Professor of Economics, and Malcolm L. Hunter, Jr., Libra Professor of Conservation Biology and Professor of Wildlife Ecology. The authors acknowledge and thank the many additional faculty and students who contributed to the research and outreach reported in the article.

“It is our hope that the work presented in this paper will inspire other researchers, practitioners, and citizens dedicated to planned development and conservation of natural resources to forge new working relationships,” Calhoun said. “ Our work shows that time, patience, open-mindedness, and the willingness to assume a bit of risk are key to successful collaborations on difficult conservation issues. We have found that the time invested is well worth the effort. The exchange and synthesis of diverse ideas lead to outcomes that are more widely embraced and enduring.” See more on this story

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Press Release: Frogs, Floods & the Future: Balancing Environment & Economy on MDI

Senator George Mitchell and David Hart will appear at the Jesup Memorial Library on Tuesday, July 15 at 7:00 PM to speak about the economic and environmental conundrums facing us on MDI, and how we can work together to address these issues. 

For example, we need more housing on MDI, but we want to preserve the natural environment and protect our wetlands.  Severe storms are increasing, which results in greater flooding that damages our roads. Our economy depends on tourists who flock to our beautiful beaches, but the pollution of coastal waters is a continuing concern. And invasive insects, like the emerald ash borer, threaten our forests.  The problems we face require solutions that involve not just science, but also strong alliances between citizens, conservationists, municipalities, and the business community.

See full press release…

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Contact Information

Senator George J. Mitchell Center & Maine's Sustainability Solutions Initiative
5710 Norman Smith Hall
Orono, ME 04469
Phone: 207.581.3244E-mail:
The University of Maine
Orono, Maine 04469
A Member of the University of Maine System