People, Landscape and Communities (PLACE)
Institution: University of Maine
Sponsor: National Science Foundation through the Sustainability Solutions Initiative
More than a third of Maine—nearly six million acres—is owned by small landowners in parcels of 1 to 1,000 acres. Their decisions about managing their land affect not only their own welfare; they collectively influence Maine’s communities, broader landscape, and quality and sense of place. These decisions play out differently in distinct parts of Maine, from north to south, coastal areas to inland forests, and urban to rural centers.
Despite the importance of these landowners to Maine’s future, surprisingly little is known about their concerns and needs. UMaine faculty Kathleen Bell, associate professor of economics, and Jessica Leahy, associate professor of human dimensions of natural resources, are leading an SSI team that is working to fill this information gap. By doing so, the PLACE team aims to help better address the concerns of small landowners and improve connections among these landowners and policy makers, resource managers, and businesses.
Why This Project?
Maine’s 200,000-plus small landowners play a crucial role in protecting the state’s quality of place, one of its most important economic assets. Many of these landowners have traditionally provided recreational opportunities, wildlife habitat, scenic amenities and other services, but they face new economic pressures, increasing conflicts with land users and other problems.
How small landowners are contending with these challenges, or what kinds of information, resources, and services they need to address them, are issues that are not well understood. At the same time, few opportunities exist for these landowners, policy makers, businesses, and other key stakeholders to collaborate on potential solutions. Such disconnects can lead to ineffective decisions in which land owners, land users, and communities lose; quality of place in a community or entire region is diminished; and local economies miss out on important opportunities.
Connecting Knowledge with Action
The PLACE team is studying small landowners in Maine to develop solutions on two key fronts. First, they recently surveyed landowners to better understand their concerns, attitudes, and behaviors. This research, led by PhD student Michael Quartuch, is helping the team to identify outputs of interest to landowners and key stakeholders that frequently interact with them, including local businesses and local and state governments. In addition, the researchers are using the survey responses to develop a variety of tools to help landowners, as well as policy makers, agencies, nonprofits, and businesses, better understand individual landowner decisions and think about how the future decisions of these owners will collectively influence Maine’s people, landscape, and communities.
The team’s findings will fill important information gaps about Maine’s small landowners, contribute to new tools to support decision-making by these landowners and other stakeholders, and improve communication networks between small landowners and the diverse agencies, organizations and groups with whom they interact.
Kathleen Bell, School of Economics (team leader)
Jessica Leahy, School of Forest Resources (team leader)
John Daigle, School of Forest Resources
Aaron Weiskittel, School of Forest Resources
Mike Quartuch, Forest Resources
Emily Silver, Forest Resources
- Featured project on MPBN’s “Triple Bottom Line”
- Profile of team leader Jessica Leahy
- Faculty Expert Guides: Jessica Leahy and Aaron Weiskittel
- Media: Jessica Leahy Interview in Kennebec Journal
Supported by National Science Foundation award EPS-0904155 to Maine EPSCoR at the University of Maine.