Daigneault looks for prosperity through the trees

Adam Daigneault and colleagues will be working with people in forest-dependent communities to build paths toward prosperity.

The University of Maine E.L. Giddings Assistant Professor of Forest, Conservation, and Recreation Policy will utilize a $105,030 grant from the U.S Forest Service to strengthen northern border towns’ resilience and to enhance their economic development.

Many northern border communities in Maine — as well as in New Hampshire, Vermont and New York — rely on the health and sustainable management of forests.

And people in those towns are financially dependent on timber or another forest product, as well as tax revenue that the forestry industry provides. 

So when a paper mill or bioelectricity plant closes, Daigneault says residents experience hardship that can lead to crises of economy, culture and identity. 

However, economic shocks also can be a catalyst for change, says Daigneault. He cites the Katahdin Region — which includes Millinocket, East Millinocket, Medway, Stacyville, Sherman, Patten, Mount Chase and Island Falls — as a prime example.

In the face of two recent mill closings, residents have actively promoted the region’s abundant natural resources and recreation opportunities to diversify the economy. Daigneault and colleagues recently completed a study of the Katahdin Region, which inspired this new research.

Northern border towns also face increased pressures from land-use changes, land ownership shifts and environmental stressors, including extreme weather and shifts in forest species composition.

Daigneault has conducted community resilience research in other parts of the world. 

“Some of my previous work involved surveying villages in Africa and the South Pacific to better understand how people responded to natural disasters,” he says. 

“I recognized that while the context of that work was different than what we are working on in Maine, the approach to learning how communities adjust to these shocks can be similar whether they are affected by flooding in Fiji or a mill closure in Madison.”

To point the pathways to prosperity in the right directions, Daigneault and colleagues will develop, quantify, and track a broad set of resilience indicators, such as population change and property tax rates. These indicators can provide insight on where the area may be succeeding as well as opportunities for improvement.

Data will come from the U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, as well as from state labor, health, and revenue agencies in all the Northern Border Communities.

Daigneault’s UMaine colleagues include Aaron Weiskittel, a professor of forest biometrics and modeling and director of Center for Research on Sustainable Forests; as well as Sam Roy, research assistant professor; and Gabrielle Sherman, Ph.D. studentThe scientists will use the data to identify three hotspot communities in Maine that warrant further investigation. 

They’ll work with community leaders, local businesses, and civic organizations to learn about challenges these communities face and help identify opportunities that could emerge. And they’ll analyze household data from distressed areas to assess resident and visitor perceptions and future aspirations.

The team will share the framework and data with the communities and with the Northern Border Regional Commission (NBRC) — a federal-state partnership created to use transformative community economic development approaches to alleviate economic distress and to position the region for economic growth.

UMaine also is partnering with the University of Vermont and Hubbard Brook Research Foundation on the project titled “A Resilience Indicators Approach to Ensuring Equitable, Objective, and Continued Investment in Northern Border Communities.” 

Contact: Beth Staples, beth.staples@maine.edu