Archive for the ‘News Releases’ Category

University Singers Tune Up for Spring Road Tour

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

During March, the University of Maine Singers will perform five free public concerts in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

Dennis Cox, UMaine director of choral activities, will lead the 70-member select choir on its annual spring trip, which will also include daytime performances at elementary, middle and high schools.

The public portion of the tour debuts at 7 p.m. Monday, March 10, at First Baptist Church of Bar Harbor, Maine. Several Singers will be performing in and near their hometowns throughout the tour, including Katherine Parsons of Bar Harbor and Sarah Stanley of Southwest Harbor on opening night.

At 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 11, the Singers perform at the Owls Head Transportation Museum in Owls Head, Maine. Eleven Singers hail from the vicinity — Sierra Ventura and Sarah Bowen of Belfast, Rosaleen Erwin of Brunswick, Morgan Cates of Camden, Dana Douglass of Phippsburg, Kristen Alberts of South China, Alecia Griffin of Randolph, Greg Kritzman of Topsham, Paige Courtney of Somerville and Sara Phillips of Thorndike.

The concert at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 12, is at the First Parish Church of Christ in Saco, Maine, which is the hometown of Singers Olivia Bean, Philip Kolmar, Cain Landry, Forrest Tripp and Katherine Lees and close to Allen Prout’s hometown of Biddeford.

At 7 p.m. Thursday, March 13, the Singers perform at Winnisquam Regional High School in Tilton, N.H., hometown of member Robert Laraway and adjacent to Northfield, hometown of Victoria Eaton. The tour concludes with a concert at 7 p.m. Friday, March 14, at Lasell College in Newton, Mass. Singers who hail from nearby communities are Hope Milne of Hamilton, Rebecca Bylaska-Davies of Worcester and Stephanie Beatrice of Ashburnham.

Every four years, the Singers perform abroad; in 2012, the group sang in Switzerland, Italy and Austria. Auditions are held each fall for the Singers, nearly half of who pursue majors outside of music.

Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777

Learning Across STEM Disciplines

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

UMaine researchers seek to improve the teaching of thermodynamics and electronics in physics and engineering.

Researchers at the University of Maine hope to improve the teaching and learning of two central topics in physics and engineering that are critical to undergraduate programs through a three-year project.

John Thompson, an associate professor of physics and cooperating associate professor of STEM education, and MacKenzie Stetzer, assistant professor of physics and cooperating assistant professor of STEM education, have received $599,999 from the National Science Foundation to investigate student learning of thermodynamics and electronics — including electric circuits — in both disciplines.

“Only in the last 10 years or so have researchers really targeted student learning beyond the introductory level, including in laboratory settings.  Interdisciplinary research that focuses on specific physics and engineering content is also relatively novel,” says Thompson of the project.

Both of the targeted areas are aligned with a recent National Research Council report on the status and future directions of discipline-based education research, Stetzer adds.

Undergraduate programs in physics and engineering often include parallel courses that teach the same topics, so the researchers want to determine the important differences between what students do and don’t learn in courses that cover the same material.

Thompson and Stetzer have previously conducted research on learning in STEM fields. Their research — along with studies conducted by many other researchers — confirm that if a student can correctly solve textbook problems, it doesn’t always mean they understand the underlying concepts.

The researchers plan to look at content in parallel courses across disciplines for similarities and differences; study student conceptual understanding across disciplines before and after instruction through written questions, interviews and classroom observations; and use research results to guide the modification and testing of existing instructional materials as well as the development of new materials for use across disciplines to help students learn difficult material in physics and engineering courses.

“Figuring out what works across disciplines and leveraging the strengths of effective instructional strategies employed in both disciplines are ways to increase the efficiency of these typically rather time-consuming research-based curriculum development efforts,” Stetzer says.

Physics Ph.D. students Jessica Clark and Kevin Van De Bogart are leading the work in thermodynamics and electronics, respectively; the research will be the focus of their dissertations. Donald Mountcastle, associate professor of physics and cooperating associate professor of biochemistry, and Wilhelm Alexander Friess, associate professor of mechanical engineering and director of UMaine’s Brunswick Engineering Program are the project’s senior personnel. The research is taking place in courses in mechanical, chemical, and electrical engineering, as well as in physics.

The majority of the project’s research staff are members of UMaine’s Physics Education Research Laboratory (PERL) and the Maine Center for Research in STEM Education (RiSE Center). The PERL consists of about 15 faculty, postdoctoral and graduate students in physics and science education. The RiSE Center includes faculty from several STEM departments and houses programs for a master of science in teaching and a Ph.D. in STEM education.

The researchers say due to the project’s interdisciplinary nature, it has the potential to improve the teaching and learning of physics and engineering at not only UMaine, but beyond, including internationally.

“The development of effective instructional materials based on research is particularly challenging. While many individual faculty develop their own materials and strategies, they usually don’t have time to thoroughly research how well that all works and iteratively refine the materials,” says Thompson, who is also co-director of the PERL.

The modified materials created from the project will be designed to be easily integrated into existing courses and won’t require instructors to implement an entirely new curriculum.

“Coming from a physics perspective, we’ve already begun to see reasoning approaches in engineering classes that we hadn’t observed when working with physics students,” Stetzer says. “We expect to see a similar phenomenon as we collaborate more fully with our engineering colleagues in the project and begin to ask engineering-based questions in physics courses.”

The findings are expected to positively affect all disciplines engaged in teaching thermodynamics and electronics, and could lead to the development of a more coherent educational experience, especially for undergraduates in physics and engineering, the project proposal states. The documentation of differences in instructional approaches and learning outcomes could become a valuable resource for instructors, textbook authors, curriculum developers, education researchers and governing bodies in both disciplines.

“Our findings on student difficulties and the effectiveness of different instructional approaches should inform more nuanced studies within each discipline. This will in turn produce new results that can improve the learning and teaching of these topics more broadly,” Thompson says.

Contact: Elyse Kahl, 207.581.3747

Portable Device Detects Disease-causing Pathogens in Real-time

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

University of Maine researchers have designed a handheld device that can quickly detect disease-causing and toxin-producing pathogens, including algal species that can cause paralytic shellfish poisoning.

The device — a colorimeter — could be instrumental in monitoring coastal water in real-time, thereby preventing human deaths and beach closures, says lead researcher Janice Duy, a recent graduate of UMaine’s Graduate School of Biomedical Science and Engineering. Duy is now conducting postdoctoral research at Fort Detrick in Maryland.

The research team, which includes UMaine professors Rosemary Smith, Scott Collins and Laurie Connell, built a prototype two-wavelength colorimeter using primarily off-the-shelf commercial parts. The water-resistant apparatus produces results comparable to those obtained with an expensive bench-top spectrophotometer that requires technical expertise to operate, says the research team.

The instrument’s ease of use, low cost and portability are significant, say the researchers. The prototype cost researchers about $200 to build; a top-shelf spectrophotometer can cost about $10,000.

A touch screen prompts users at each step of the protocol. Researchers say an Android app is being developed to enable future smartphone integration of the measurement system.

Duy says the device almost instantaneously identifies pathogenic organisms by capturing target RNA with synthetic probe molecules called peptide nucleic acids (PNAs). A cyanine dye is added to visualize the presence of probe-target complexes, which show up as a purple solution; solutions without the target RNA are blue.

The versatile instrument can also be adapted to detect other organisms. The researchers say, in theory, any organism that contains nucleic acids could be detected with the simple colorimetric test. They have verified the system works with RNA from a soil-borne fungus that infects potatoes.

The research team’s teaching and expertise spans several UMaine schools and departments, including Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, the Laboratory for Surface Science and Technology, the Graduate School of Biomedical Science and Engineering, the Department of Chemistry, the School of Marine Sciences and the Department of Molecular and Biomedical Sciences. The Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration provided funding for the project.

The instrument is being incorporated into fresh and marine water testing in the Republic of Korea and the researchers say they’ll give several devices to state officials to test and use in the field in Maine.

The researchers published their findings in the journal Biosensors and Bioelectronics.

Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777

UMaine Grad Student Researching Effects of Weather, Climate Change on Sap Flow

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

Understanding more about the relationship between weather and maple sap flow, and how Maine syrup producers will adapt to climate change is the focus of research being conducted by a University of Maine graduate student.

Jenny Shrum, a Ph.D. candidate in the ecology and environmental sciences graduate program in the UMaine School of Biology and Ecology, is attempting to unravel the biophysical relationships between weather and sap flow. The goal is to better understand what drives flow and how expected trends in climate may affect the processes and harvesters in the future.

Shrum plans to collect on-site weather station data and sap flow rates at three test sites and to interview small- and large-scale producers to determine if those who have been managing sugar maple stands for years will be more or less resilient to climate change, and if large-scale producers will be better equipped to adapt. Her research is supported by the National Science Foundation and EPSCoR through UMaine’s Sustainability Solutions Initiative and its Effects of Climate Change on Organisms research project.

The physiological process for sap flow is not completely understood, Shrum says. It involves a complex interaction between freezing and thawing of the xylem tissue within the tree, and the molecule sucrose which maple trees use to store carbohydrates between seasons.

“When the tree defrosts, the frozen liquid in the tree becomes fluid and that provides a medium for the sugars that are stored in the trunk to get to the branches,” Shrum says, adding that in order to continue flowing, the ground also has to be defrosted so the tree can pull in water during the next freeze cycle and recharge the positive pressure in the trunk to restart sap flow.

Sugar maple trees grow as far north as New Brunswick and as far south as Georgia, yet maple syrup is only produced commercially in the 13 most northern states because of the colder weather, Shrum says.

In Maine and other northern areas, more than one freeze-thaw event happens during the winter. This lets the process repeat and allows the season to last between six and eight weeks as opposed to a few days, which is likely in southern states such as Georgia and Missouri, where maple trees grow but aren’t commercially tapped. Warm weather or microbial build-up in taps usually ends the season, according to Shrum.

In Maine, the season usually starts sometime between the middle of February and the middle of March, and continues for about six weeks, Shrum says.

“This winter has been really weird; we’ve had really warm weather and really cold weather and as far as sap flow, that might be a good thing,” Shrum says. “But not enough is known.”

One change that has been proven is the start time of the sap season.

“Studies are starting to show that the preferred block of time for tapping is starting earlier if you base it on ideal temperatures,” Shrum says, citing a 2010 Cornell University study by Chris Skinner that found that by 2100, the sap season could start a month earlier than it does now.

For big-time operations, Shrum says an earlier season probably won’t be a problem because they can just tap their lines earlier, but she’s not sure how smaller Maine operations will adapt.

“They might not be able to change their season,” she says. “A lot of the smaller operators have multiple jobs; they make money off maple syrup, but also in other fields such as woodcutting or construction. It just so happens maple syrup is a block of time when they’re not doing anything else, so it makes sense. But if that season changes, it might not fit into their schedule as well.”

Shrum will interview a variety of producers — small- and large-scale operators, people who have been tapping trees for 30 or more years and people who started within the past five years — to learn the reasons for tapping and better understand resilience within these groups.

To record weather and sap flow data, Shrum, who holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from Humboldt State University, will deploy weather stations at maple tree stands in Albion, Dixmont and Orono. She’s also using iButtons to record soil temperatures and time-lapse photography of the buckets to record hourly sap flow rates. She can then relate flow rates to variables the weather stations record, such as temperature, precipitation and sunlight.

Although climate change is likely to affect sap flow, Shrum is confident there will always be maple syrup made in Maine.

“None of the climate change scenarios that have come up result in maple trees not growing in Maine. We’re definitely still going to have freezing events in Maine; it’s not going to get so warm that that’s not going to happen,” she says.

Shrum says maple syrup could become a big commodity in Maine if more of a market was created through government incentive plans, and if the state decided to make it a priority — similar to Vermont.

“Everything is good about maple syrup. There’s very little that’s controversial about it, and the biology is fascinating,” Shrum says.

Contact: Elyse Kahl, 207.581.3747

History Repeats

Monday, February 10th, 2014

A team of University of Maine scientists studying nearly 11,700-year-old ice cores from Greenland found that history is repeating.

Paul Mayewski, director and distinguished professor of UMaine’s Climate Change Institute, says today’s climate situation in the Arctic is equivalent to, but more localized, than the warming during the Younger Dryas/Holocene shift about 11,700 years ago.

Mayewski led the research team that examined Arctic ice formed 11,700 years ago during a rapid climate transition from the Younger Dryas (near-glacial) period to the Holocene era (period of relative warm since then). Ice cores, in essence, are timelines of past climates.

The abrupt shift then included a northward shift in the jet stream, an abrupt decrease in North Atlantic sea ice and more moisture in Greenland. These changes resulted in milder weather, fewer storms and initially more than a doubling of the length of the summer season around Greenland, the team says.

“It is highly unlikely that future change in climate will be linear as evidenced by the past and by the recent, abrupt and massive warming in the Arctic,” Mayewski says. “Understanding and ideally predicting the likelihood, timing and location of future nonlinearities in climate is essential to realistic climate prediction, adaptation and sustainability.”

The ice formed during that one-year onset of the Holocene climate “sheds light on the structure of past abrupt climate changes and provides unparalleled perspective with which to assess the potential for near-term rapid shifts in atmospheric circulation and seasonality,” Mayewski says.

Additional exploration of the ice cores, with respect to the length of seasons, is expected to yield information about precursors for abrupt climate shifts. “Identifying and using the precursors will fill an essential void in climate prediction models by testing for sensitivity in the context of past analogs,” the researchers say.

In the university’s W.M. Keck Laser Ice Facility, the researchers had the first-ever ultra-high-resolution look at ice cores formed during the swift shift from the near-glacial period to the current period of relative warmth. The ice core samples were removed from a depth spanning 1,677.5 meters to 1,678.5 meters, or from 11,643 to 11,675 years ago.

Mayewski has led more than 50 expeditions to the Arctic, Antarctica, Himalayas, Tibetan Plateau, Tierra del Fuego and the Andes. He has shared his research with numerous media venues including “60 Minutes,” “NOVA,” BBC, “Fresh Air” and “The Diane Rehm Show.”

The research team includes Sharon Sneed, Sean Birkel, Andrei Kurbatov and Kirk Maasch, all from UMaine. The researchers’ findings are included in the article, “Holocene warming marked by abrupt onset of longer summers and reduced storm frequency around Greenland,” published in the January 2014 issue of the Journal of Quaternary Science.

Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777

Hudson Museum Artifact May Have Been Motivation for Seattle Seahawks Logo

Friday, February 7th, 2014

The University of Maine’s Hudson Museum is home to an artifact that may have inspired the logo design of the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks: a carved Northwest Coast transformation mask.

The wooden mask, which depicts a bird of prey when closed and reveals a painted depiction of a human face when opened, is part of the William P. Palmer III collection on display at the museum.

The brightly colored mask, which has mirrors for eyes, is 2 feet long when closed and 3 feet long open. Hudson Museum Director Gretchen Faulkner says it likely was carved from cedar in the late 19th or early 20th century.

Faulkner says Richard Emerick, the late UMaine anthropologist and founder of the Hudson Museum, told her years ago that the wooden mask was the inspiration for the Seahawks logo that was unveiled in 1975. But there was no corroborating information in the mask’s collection file linking it to the Seahawks.

Now, though, a possible link exists.

Robin K. Wright, curator of Native American art and director of the Bill Holm Center at Burke Museum at the University of Washington, attributes the mask to the Kwakwaka‘wakw (kwock-KWOCKY-wowk) — Indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest Coast.

A few days before Super Bowl XLVIII, Wright posted a blog “Searching for what inspired the Seattle Seahawks logo.”

The mask that Wright pictures in her blog as the likely motivation for the Seahawks design appeared in Robert Bruce Inverarity’s 1950 book, “Art of the Northwest Coast Indians.”

It’s believed to be the same mask displayed at the Hudson Museum, catalogue number HM5521.

In 1982, avid baseball fan William Palmer of Falmouth Foreside, Maine, bequeathed the mask, as well as other Northwest Coast art and an extraordinary collection of Pre-Colombian artifacts, to UMaine.

After the Seahawks Super Bowl win over the Denver Broncos on Sunday, Feb. 2, Faulkner told museum board member Isla Baldwin what Emerick had shared with her years ago about the mask being the inspiration for the Seattle football team’s original logo.

Baldwin discovered Wright’s blog while doing online research.

Contacted earlier this week, Wright says she’s thrilled to learn where the mask is housed. In a televised interview just prior to the Super Bowl, Wright said she expressed hope that the blog and TV interview might help unearth the location of the mask.

Masks are worn in Kwakwaka’wakw ceremonies that include singing, dancing and giving of gifts, Wright says, and often memorialize a deceased chief.

When the logo was unveiled in 1975, John Thompson, then-general manager of the Seahawks, was quoted saying that the logo designers referenced books about Northwest Coast art for inspiration. A call to the Seahawks was not returned by Friday morning.

Faulkner invites fans of art and athletics to visit the museum to see the piece; the museum is open Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777

The Value of Good Corporate Citizenship

Friday, February 7th, 2014

Companies considered to be good social performers are more likely to limit the levels of pay for their executives than similar firms within their industries, according to University of Maine researchers.

However, the top executives at the large firms examined in the study are not being penalized. The average compensation package in the sample was about $8 million, and additional pay above this level is not likely to generate additional motivation, say Maine Business School faculty members Patti Miles and Grant Miles, who conducted the study.

In their findings, published in Social Responsibility Journal, the researchers suggest that executives for the good social performers may be willing to “sacrifice at least a piece of financial compensation for the intangible rewards of being seen as good corporate citizens.”

A review by the journal publisher congratulated the researchers for their study findings that relate to “wider debates that have gone on around corporate ethics.”

Their findings were based on an examination of data from a sample of 57 firms identified as possessing “good corporate social responsibility,” which were compared to 57 firms of similar size and in the same industries. All of the firms included in the study were drawn from the Fortune 1000 list, and most rank within the Fortune 500.

The companies were selected as good social performers based on criteria such as inclusion in Fortune’s list of most admired and most accountable companies, or by filing reports with the Global Reporting Initiative and United Nations Global Compact. Overall, 33 industry segments were represented, with the greatest number coming from pharmaceuticals and petroleum refining.

Executive compensation data were drawn from public reports from 2005–07. The researchers examined both CEO pay and average compensation for the company’s top management team. In both cases, there was a significant correlation between corporate social responsibility and lower levels of executive pay.

Contact: Margaret Nagle, 207.581.3745

Hale Named Founding Project Leader of Maine Career Connect

Friday, February 7th, 2014

Michelle Hale of Bangor has been named project leader of Maine Career Connect, a Bangor-based nonprofit program of the University of Maine Rising Tide Center.

Maine Career Connect, funded by a $284,093 grant from the National Science Foundation, will work to network a consortium of employers in central and eastern Maine with newly relocated professional families, with an emphasis on spousal employment.

Hale has a decade of experience in nonprofit work, most recently with United Way of Eastern Maine, where she coordinated local community initiatives. She has a bachelor’s degree in social work and is completing a graduate certificate in business at the University of Maine. Hale also is a participant in the 2014 Bangor Region Leadership Institute.

Maine Career Connect will work with newly relocating professionals and employers of the region to ensure successful integration into the community. Dual career spouses will have access to high-level professional networking with employers that align with their professions in an effort to accelerate their job search process.

Professionals will receive networking assistance, both in seeking employment and also building social connections. Customized portfolios of vetted local resources will be offered to help families meet their particular needs outside the workplace.

The program, based on an innovative model adopted by Tech Valley Connect in Troy, N.Y., will benefit the region by helping to attract and retain talented professionals in a variety of fields.

For more information on Maine Career Connect, call 949.0098.

Contact: Michelle Hale, 207.949.0098; Margaret Nagle, 207.581.3745

UMaine’s CCAR Assists in Development of Recirculating Aquaculture Technology

Monday, February 3rd, 2014

Chefs often go to the docks to select fresh catch to prepare their evening seafood dinners.

In the near future, area chefs and the public may routinely be getting fresh, sustainable fish from a Maine-based indoor fish farm.

A number of locals are working toward that future, including middle-school students, educators, marine scientists, businesspeople, funders, and a fisherman who helps run a cooperative. Participants involved in this cutting-edge indoor fish farming technology project will gather at Herring Gut Learning Center in Port Clyde on Thursday, Feb. 6.

Following are snapshots of the participating organizations:

School of Roots at the Herring Gut Learning Center, Port Clyde, Maine

The School of Roots, a student-run aquaponics business established in 2010, is managed by middle-school youth in RSU 13’s Alternative Education Program at the Herring Gut Learning Center. The students learn academic concepts while developing, marketing and selling products to grocers, restaurants and community members. They previously test-marketed and sold black sea bass produced by Acadia Harvest and are now premarketing Acadia Harvest’s California yellowtail. Feb. 6, the students will help harvest the fish; they plan to have them all sold within 48 hours of harvest.

For more information on the School of Roots, visit herringgut.org/schoolofroots.html?id=1.

For more information on Herring Gut Learning Center, visit herringgut.org.

Acadia Harvest Inc., Brunswick, Maine

Acadia Harvest was formed in early 2011 as RAS Corporation. Acadia Harvest (AHI) is working at the University of Maine’s Center for Cooperative Aquaculture Research in Franklin, Maine, to develop new technologies in land-based, indoor sustainable fish farming, known as recirculating aquaculture systems. Principals Chris Heinig (CEO), Tap Pryor (chief scientist) and Ed Robinson (chairman) have been growing and test marketing high-quality, nutritious, affordable fish, both California yellowtail and black sea bass. By 2016, they anticipate having their first commercial-scale production facility in Maine to initially produce 250 to 450 metric tons of fish annually. With a SBIR Phase I grant from the National Science Foundation, the company has experimented with marine worms and various forms of algae in the recirculating aquaculture system to achieve an environmentally friendly “zero-waste” facility. AHI has a purchase option on a parcel of land in Gouldsboro, on the site of a former naval facility at Corea. The construction of a first-phase production facility would involve a multi-million dollar investment and the creation of 10–15 new jobs for the area.

University of Maine’s Center for Cooperative Aquaculture Research, Franklin, Maine

UMaine’s Center for Cooperative Aquaculture Research, directed by Nick Brown, is a business incubation facility and a center for applied aquaculture research, development and demonstration. CCAR is assisting Acadia Harvest in its development of recirculating aquaculture technology by providing sophisticated aquaculture business incubation facilities, recirculation technology and marine research expertise. CCAR also will provide juvenile fish from its state-of-the-art hatchery for Acadia Harvest.

For more information about UMaine’s CCAR, visit www.ccar.um.maine.edu/index.html.

Port Clyde Fresh Catch: A Maine Fishermen’s Cooperative, Port Clyde, Maine

Port Clyde Fresh Catch is the country’s first community-supported fishery. It’s part of a movement seeking to do for small-scale local fishermen what community-supported agriculture does for farmers. On Feb. 6, Glen Libby and the Port Clyde team will process the California yellowtail grown by Acadia Harvest.

For more information about Port Clyde Fresh Catch, visit portclydefreshcatch.com.

Both Maine Technology Institute and Coastal Enterprises, Inc. have provided funding that has been instrumental in Acadia Harvest’s development of indoor fish farming technology.

Maine Technology Institute (MTI), Brunswick, Maine

The Maine Technology Institute is a private nonprofit organization chartered by the state to “invest in innovation” in seven key sectors. MTI funds entrepreneurs, growing businesses and research institutions engaged in research and development of innovative technologies in Aquaculture & Marine, Agriculture & Forestry, Biotechnology, Precision Manufacturing, Advanced Composites, Information Technology and Environmental Technology. In addition to a competitive grant and loan program, MTI also makes equity investments in promising technologies. Since its founding in 1999, MTI has invested more than $178 million in the Maine economy, bringing in more than $250 million of additional investment to Maine, and creating high-quality jobs and long-term value for the state.

For more information about MTI, visit mainetechnology.org.

Coastal Enterprises, Inc. (CEI), Wiscasset, Maine

CEI, a 501(c)(3) private, nonprofit Community Development Corporation (CDC) and Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), is among the leading rural finance entities in the Northeast. Founded in 1977, and headquartered in Maine, CEI has provided $1.05 billion in loans and investments, and business and housing counseling services to more than 43,082 people, helping to create economically and environmentally healthy communities in New England, upstate New York, and throughout rural America.

For more information about CEI, visit ceimaine.org.

Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777

UMaine forestry, Social Work Researchers Team Up to Help Maine Landowners Overcome Challenges

Monday, February 3rd, 2014

Finding more efficient ways to serve Maine landowners by incorporating social work strategies — including effective communication and resource- linking skills — into forest management is the goal of a collaborative project between researchers at two schools in the University of Maine College of Natural Sciences, Forestry, and Agriculture.

Jessica Leahy, an associate professor of human dimensions of natural resources in the UMaine School of Forest Resources, is leading the study that tests social work approaches to conservation in the Cumberland County town of Baldwin and surrounding communities. Researchers hope to determine if these strategies could lead to more effective outcomes to landowners’ challenges as opposed to using traditional forestry solutions, such as management plans and outreach materials.

“Social workers are good at listening to people — understanding their needs and connecting people to appropriate resources,” Leahy says. “That’s why we need social workers to help landowners; to listen to what they’d like to do with their land, and then connect and coordinate services from natural resource professionals.”

There are more than 85,000 families in Maine that own at least 10 acres of woods, Leahy says. Their needs can be addressed by UMaine, the Maine Forest Service and others if those organizations can provide services that work for landowners, she adds.

Many conservation problems are related to social and economic factors. While foresters and other natural resource professionals help landowners make decisions about land management, they may not be equipped to handle the challenges landowners face that involve family dynamics. A social work approach could be the answer to solving these conservation problems, Leahy says.

“Foresters specialize in land management and trees, but landowners are often dealing with human issues such as how to afford their taxes and how to talk to their family about what they’d like to happen with their land after they pass away,” she says. “Landowners also often don’t know what a forester can do for them nor do they know how to coordinate all the potential natural resource professionals that are there to help them.”

Leahy, the project’s forestry expert, hired Doug Robertson and Chris Young, students in the UMaine School of Social Work. Both Robertson, a senior in the bachelor’s of social work program from Benton, Maine, and Young, a first-year graduate student of social work from Bangor, Maine, grew up around Maine woodland owners. They’re interested in connecting with landowners through the project and learning more about the land that many families rely on and how community organizations can help.

Pam Wells, a licensed clinical social worker, is supervising the students and translating the social work aspect of the project. She is also a landowner who recognizes areas where social work and forestry intersect.

“Pam often talks about how challenging it is to find, understand and coordinate the various assistance programs that are out there for landowners like the Tree Growth Tax Law, Natural Resources Conservation Service cost-share programs and programs offered by the Maine Forest Service,” Leahy says.

Kevin Doran and Andy Shultz of the Maine Forest Service are also helping with the study.

The one-year project, which began in Sept. 2013 and runs through August 2014, received a $6,500 Maine Community Foundation grant. The project’s social work approach to conservation has been untested to date, Leahy says.

“It’s an innovative, highly experimental, never-been-done-before project that is bridging forestry and social work together in an effort to better engage and serve rural families who own forestland in southern Maine,” she says.

Part of the project will include the development of a forest-specific wraparound case management process that will be implemented with one landowning family. The wraparound process in social work recognizes that all aspects of someone’s life — social, economic and ecological — are related. This understanding is then used to help the individual by focusing on incremental progress, involving community support and using science-based interventions, according to Leahy.

The focus of the project will be on measuring and evaluating the outcomes of the approach to improve future efforts.

“Ultimately, we hope more landowners will be empowered to be stewards of their land, and that will lead to healthy forests, healthy rural economies and healthy families,” Leahy says.

Other aspects of the community project include assisting the Small Woodland Owners Association of Maine with succession planning efforts, offering peer-to-peer learning experiences such as suppers and forums, organizing workshops for natural resource professionals to increase their cultural competency and researching community interest in creating a low-income wood bank — similar to a food bank — for the Baldwin area.

Upcoming peer-to-peer learning events include the project’s second woods forum and community supper Feb. 7, a workshop on estate planning for landowners Feb. 27 and a Forester’s Institute brown bag lunch on cultural competency April 11.

Robertson and Young are looking for a family to work with on the project. Interested families must live in Sebago, Hiram, Cornish, Limington, Baldwin or Standish and own at least 10 acres. To participate or for more information on the project or scheduled workshops, call Robertson, 207.435.4798, or Young, 207.992.6182.