UMaine part of $10 million USDA grant to fuel economic resilience, sustainability in eastern U.S. forests

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded a $10 million grant to a collaborative research team from the University of Maine, the University of Georgia and lead-site Purdue University to help landowners and stakeholders better adapt their forests to increasingly complicated economic and climate conditions in the eastern United States.

UMaine will receive $2.7 million for their efforts on the project.

About five million small, private landowners control just over half the acreage of forests in the eastern U.S. This contrasts with western U.S. forests, which are mostly publicly owned. The aim of the project partners is to improve the management of 15 million acres of those forests, an area nearly as large as the state of West Virginia. The project encompasses the northern hardwood forest in the Northeast, the central hardwood region, and the southern pine and mixed hardwood.

“Maine’s landscape has created incredible recreational activities and economic opportunities for our state, but our great outdoors is facing new challenges in light of climate change, evolving markets, and land-use changes,” said Senators Susan Collins and Angus King. “Addressing these challenges isn’t easy, and this new investment for the University of Maine is a positive step to integrate technology in forestry research, education, and outreach — providing significant benefits to the long-term health and sustainability of Maine’s forests. We are grateful to our partners at the U.S. Department of Agriculture for their help in protecting these extraordinary lands for generations to come.”

PERSEUS (Promoting Economic Resilience and Sustainability of the Eastern U.S. Forests) will work to protect forestry’s many benefits that include timber and fiber production, along with climate mitigation. Their long-term sustainability faces threats from climate change, evolving markets and land-use changes.

“Forests are highly dynamic and driven by an array of factors, including climate. Management needs to simultaneously consider short- and long-term conditions, which complicate actions,” says Aaron Weiskittel, professor of forest biometrics and modeling, and director of the Center for Research on Sustainable Forests at UMaine. “PERSEUS attempts to leverage emerging technology to provide landowners with the necessary tools to make optimal decisions for different competing objectives.”

PERSEUS will use digital technology to improve the health and sustainability of forests. High-accuracy automated measurement serves as the project core.

“Purdue has a suite of novel digital tools that can be applied to this project,” says Songlin Fei, a professor of forestry and natural resources, and director of the Center for Digital Forestry at Purdue. Those tools range from drones to piloted aircraft to satellite-based sensors that will provide nearly real-time measurements of an entire forest.

The PERSEUS project team also includes UMaine School of Forest Resources faculty members Erin Simons-Legaard, Sandra De Urioste-Stone, Adam Daigneault, Daniel Hayes and Kasey Legaard, who will work cross-institutionally to construct and apply an integrated digital framework for modeling current and future forest ecosystem service trends at the landowner-scale, resulting in data upon which to base their forest management decisions.

The project will support a competency-based, multimodal education and training system whereby diverse participants can acquire modern skills and knowledge in digital forestry.

“Forestry generally prides itself as a boots-on-the-ground business, while technology is rapidly changing access to information. PERSEUS will provide the necessary training to help both students and landowners alike leverage these new tools,” says Weiskittel, adding that the project’s successful research proposal benefited directly from landowner input and congressional support.

A Purdue news release about the research award is online

Contact: Meg Fergusson,