People, Landscape and Communities (PLACE)

forester with chainsawInstitution: 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.

Update on the Research

The PLACE team is studying the behaviors, attitudes, and information and resource needs of the state’s 200,000-plus small landowners, as well as the connections between these landowners and broader landscape change, in central and southern Maine. Led by Kathleen Bell, associate professor, School of Economics, and Jessica Leahy, assistant professor, School of Forest Resources, the researchers have made recent progress including:

  • Informing legislation to improve relations between outdoor recreationalists and landowners. Research by Jessica Leahy influenced LD1613, “An Act to Strengthen the Relationships between Landowners and Land Users.” The team documented problems between landowners and land users in Maine and evaluated policy tools to find innovative solutions to manage these conflicts and support the role of private landowners in providing recreational opportunities, scenic amenities and other services. The researchers shared findings at a public meeting with 77 stakeholders, including legislators. The bill passed, providing strategic direction and funding mechanisms that benefit both landowners and land users in Maine.
  • Helping agencies and organizations better understand landowners’ needs. PhD student Michael Quartuch, Leahy and Bell surveyed nearly 400 small woodland owners in Kennebec County in order to better understand how they’re managing their land, what information they need and the most effective ways to deliver it, and their stewardship ethics. Among the key findings: 74 percent of respondents did not have a written forest management plan, but two-thirds would either consider getting one or are undecided. Findings will be used by the Kennebec Woodland Partnership and other organizations to inform landowner education and outreach efforts. See the Kennebec County Woodland Owner Survey for details.

Over the next year, the team will continue to analyze data from this and other landowner surveys and study stakeholder engagement processes related to communication and interpretation of survey results. The team will integrate findings to improve documentation of landowner concerns and to better understand how landowners make land management decisions. They will then share these findings with policy makers, agencies, communities, business and other key stakeholders in order to help them improve outreach and service provision to Maine’s small landowners. The researchers also will use survey results to continue to develop decision-support tools to assist landowners and other stakeholders.

In addition, Bell and Aaron Weiskittel, assistant professor, UMaine School of Forest Resources, will begin to collaborate with researchers conducting similar projects throughout the U.S. and Canada as part of a National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center working group led by Bell and SSI colleague Brian McGill, assistant professor of ecological modeling, UMaine School of Biology and Ecology.

Team members
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

Graduate Students
Mike Quartuch, Forest Resources
Emily Silver, Forest Resources

Project Partners
Maine Dept. of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry
Kennebec Woodland Partnership
Small Woodland Owners Association of Maine (SWOAM)
US Forest Service

Additional Resources

Supported by National Science Foundation award EPS-0904155 to Maine EPSCoR at the University of Maine.