Farms and Rivers for the Future

Pastures, Aroostook County, MaineInstitution: University of Maine
Sponsor: Maine Water Resources Research Institute (2020)

Identifying and understanding community perceptions in the Meduxnekeag River watershed.

The goal of the Farms and Rivers for the Future project is to identify and better understand community perceptions in the section of the Meduxnekeag watershed located around Houlton in Aroostook County, Maine. The research team will explore how community members, especially farmers, in the area perceive and relate to the Meduxnekeag River and watershed, as well as water-quality issues in the watershed and the Best Management Practices (BMPs) capable of mitigating those issues. With grant support from the Maine Water Resources Research Institute, a program of the Mitchell Center, researchers from the University of Maine, as well as a diverse partnership of organizations located in the watershed, are conducting a one-year study focused on understanding opportunities and challenges related to riparian buffer installation. Developing this understanding will assist in attaining important long-term goals such as improving water quality as well as facilitating decision-making practices that build resilience and promote adaptive capacities and reduce climate-based vulnerability to current and future changes in the watershed.

The project emerged from the collaborative efforts of a diverse group of organizations in the watershed: the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians (HBMI), Southern Aroostook Soil & Water Conservation District (SASWCD), U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). This partnership has worked closely for more than thirty years to monitor and maintain water quality throughout the watershed and has identified a need to address nonpoint source pollution (NPS) from agricultural runoff (SASWCD). The partnership reached out to UMaine because they were interested in the role that social-scientific, communication-based research can play in broadening potential for collaborating with members of the Meduxnekeag watershed’s farming community to define problems and solutions to NPS pollution from agriculture. The researchers involved in this project will work closely with the partners in Houlton to define the purposes and types of information that the research should work to uncover, as well as defining actionable steps learned from that information.

This project is informed by a sustainability science approach designed to link knowledge about farmer perceptions and needs to decision-making within the watershed to both protect water quality and preserve livelihoods. The team uses an engaged research methodology and also draws from communication studies to shape the research design and data collection. As this work also seeks to collaborate with and respond to the needs and interests of the HBMI, the team also draws from engaged and decolonizing research approaches designed for ethical research practices with First Nations.

The project has a two-part focus for this work. First, the team attends to how different relationships to the river and watershed throughout the community affect the restoration of riparian buffer along farmland that drains directly into a body of water. Second, the team believes that finding ways to understand and work across diverse understandings as they relate to riparian buffers will offer inroads for facilitating the development of collaborative and sustainable community decision-making practices involved in other natural resource and environmental arenas. As climate change continues to emerge as an important factor in natural resource decisions, developing and practicing collaborative, community-based decision-making will prove to be an important process for increasing communities’ capacity for adapting to climate changes.

Research Team:

  • Team Leader: Bridie McGreavy, Assistant Professor, Dept. of Communication and Journalism and Mitchell Center faculty fellow, UMaine
  • Co-PI: Michael Clay, doctoral student, Dept. of Communication and Journalism, UMaine