Road to Solutions — Environmental & Social Justice
Developing and Deploying a Risk Framework for PFAS Management in Rural America: Connecting Predictive Models of PFAS Contamination with Risk Perceptions to Guide Management Decisions (WRRI 104g)
Across the United States, there is growing concern about the widespread occurrence of PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) in our water, our food, and our bodies stemming from exposure through landfills, pesticides, atmospheric deposition, consumer products and fire suppressants. This is particularly true in rural America, where the land application of municipal and industrial biosolids to agricultural fields or septage disposal sites may be further contributing to PFAS contamination in groundwater and surface water.
Integrated Assessment of Alternative Management Strategies for PFAS-contaminated Wastewater Residuals (WRRI 2021)
PFAS, also known as “forever chemicals,” are used in a range of consumer products from nonstick cookware to breathable rain gear and food packaging. Though PFAS have been in use since the late 1950s, it is only in the last 20 years that their toxicity has been well documented. Because these chemicals do not break down, they eventually end up in the wastewater streams sent to treatment plants. During treatment, much of the PFAS are removed from the wastewater and become concentrated in the wastewater sludge, or residuals, that remain. In 2019, the state stopped spreading wastewater residuals on farm fields due to the discovery of unsafe levels of PFAS in virtually all samples and PFAS contamination at several Maine dairy farms. An interdisciplinary research team is examining the environmental, social and economic consequences of a range of management options for PFAS-contaminated wastewater residuals.
Energy justice seeks to make sustainable energy solutions such as energy efficiency more accessible to traditionally underrepresented groups. Community energy involves a group of people coming together to solve an energy issue. This project addresses the solutions-side of energy justice with a pilot project on collectively building insulating window inserts, which can reduce heat loss, save energy and money, and protect the environment, in an Indigenous community.
Wabanaki Voices and Heritage Spaces: Advancing Indigenous Community Engagement in Shell Mound Research, Documentation, and Management in Maine
Archaeological shell mounds along Maine’s coast represent important Indigenous heritage spaces that preserve a record of past lifeways and environments. With support from a partnership development grant from the Mitchell Center, a team led by UMaine faculty members Bonnie Newsom and Alice Kelley and graduate student Natalie Dana-Lolar are working with tribal representatives, the Abbe Museum, Schoodic Institute and Acadia National Park to increase Wabanaki stakeholder engagement in shell heap research, education and management.
Strengthening Engagement with the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians for Watershed Restoration and Environmental Justice
This project seeks to strengthen engagement between researchers and students at the University of Maine and staff of the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians (HBMI) Natural Resources Department (NRD), both in the near and long term. Through supporting creation of a story map, the project aims to raise awareness about the NRD’s water quality, conservation, and climate change work throughout the Meduxnekeag and larger Wolastoq/St. John watersheds. A commitment to justice-oriented and decolonizing approaches to the production of knowledge, aligned with UMaine’s larger research values as they relate to work that intersects with Wabanaki Tribal Nations, is foundational to this work.
Maine’s rivers and streams are home to twelve native species of sea-run (diadromous) fishes, which migrate between freshwater and marine environments to complete their life cycles. These species provide ecological linkages between freshwater and marine biomes and have cultural, social and economic value to the Indigenous and non-Indigenous people of Maine. The Telling Our Story Workshop series is a participatory and collaborative endeavor to understand and address the communication and outreach needs of sea-run fish practitioners in Maine. In this project, participants will work collaboratively to identify audiences and begin developing messages to motivate action in support of sea-run fish conservation, restoration and management, forming the basis for continued collaboration among sea-run fish partners.
Harnessing Spatiotemporal Data Science to Predict Responses of Biodiversity and Rural Communities under Climate Change
In response to a changing climate, populations of plants and animals move to more hospitable locations. Predicting where species will end up, and how New England farmers and rural communities need to plan for such changes, is the focus of a new interdisciplinary research initiative led by the University of Maine. The project’s goal is to better understand how plant and animal species — including forest plants, wildlife, diseases transmitted from animals to people, and agricultural crops — will respond to a changing climate in the next century.
Vacationland. Take one look at Maine’s license plate and you see the widespread importance of tourism to the state. Maine’s natural resources attract visitors from all over the world but are also vulnerable to climate change, which is likely to impact visitors as well as communities dependent on tourism. This project seeks to move beyond traditional power structures and collaborate with community partners to co-develop locally relevant, useful climate change solutions. The result of this collaboration will be a participatory framework to build climate-planning capacity within tourism-dependent communities.
The research and engagement of Collaborating Toward Climate Solutions (CTCS) is designed to support on-the-ground problem-solving for the complex challenges that communities face with climate change. The research team is working closely with community partners to co-develop strategies and extension/assistance services to foster adaptation and resilience. This includes learning about community priorities and challenges and identifying potential service-provider partners, best practices, and the potential for networks that enable towns to connect with peer communities.
Through this project, the Mitchell Center is assisting the Maine Climate Council to understand and improve the extent to which the draft strategies being considered as part of the council’s Climate Action Plan ensure that the benefits of climate protection efforts are distributed equitably. The team is also addressing inequities in how the burdens created by climate change and the policies designed to alleviate it may affect people and communities.
Sustainability science is best when bringing together different forms of knowledge to address societal problems. This research project addresses the barriers and pathways of bringing indigenous science (IS) together with western academic science.
Understanding the barriers and opportunities for integrating and sharing data from disparate sources is critical to create more usable knowledge that fits within existing social and political structures. This project provides a solution to tailor data integration and information sharing to the specific needs of key stakeholder groups—state and federal regulators, industry developers, and a tribal environmental program.
In January 2017, the Mitchell Center launched the Strengthening Coastal Economies project as part of the Diana Davis Spencer Partnership for a Sustainable Maine. The ultimate goal of this initiative is to develop, implement and evaluate solutions to complex problems requiring a careful balance between economic development and environmental preservation.
This project builds and expands on the 2018 Food Waste Reduction project which was focused on food loss, food waste, and barriers to establishing a circular food system and environmental sustainability while addressing food insecurity.
The invasive emerald ash borer could decimate Maine’s ash trees—and jeopardize the livelihoods of Maine’s Indian basket makers, who rely on the tree for their time-honored craft…