PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — A team of professors at the University of Maine at Presque Isle has received a substantial grant to continue broad-based research on sustainable development.
Officials at the college announced recently that the $95,000 allocation from the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, or EPSCoR, will be used to continue research on the Aroostook River Watershed.
This is the third year in a row the team has received funding from EPSCoR, a program under the auspices of Maine’s Office of Innovation. The grants are awarded by the National Science Foundation to states that typically are not targeted for research grants. The college received $66,000 in 2009 and $75,000 in 2010. With the recent funding, $236,000 has been brought into UMPI’s research coffers for the project.
The University of Maine and the University of Southern Maine also have received funding, and UMPI officials said the college potentially could receive funding for a total of five years.
The Aroostook River Watershed is the most populated region in northern Maine. It encompasses Presque Isle, Caribou and Fort Fairfield. The college research team’s project is “Assessing the Feasibility and Sustainability of Renewable Energy Production in the Aroostook River Watershed through Research and Stakeholder Partnerships.”
The work during this grant year involves evaluating the potential of grass biomass production for central Aroostook County using the watershed as a sampling space and the community of Fort Fairfield as a way to focus on one stakeholder municipality. The project will include coordinating efforts to locate and establish up to 10,000 acres of grassland and evaluating the potential ecological impact, or benefit, to grassland birds.
This year’s team, which is being led by Dr. Jason Johnston, assistant professor of wildlife ecology, includes professor David Putnam, lecturer of science; Dr. Kimberly Sebold, associate professor of history; and Dr. Chunzeng Wang, associate professor of earth and environmental science. Also on the team is David Vail, the Adams Catlin Professor Economics, Emeritus, at Bowdoin College.
Johnston said the fact that the research project has been fully funded for a third year is “a testament to how much our work is meeting the intent of this research program, which is to conduct research in a way that fully engages community stakeholders.”
“We look forward to many discussions with community members, and think this research will lead to energy, land use and economic benefits in the Aroostook River Watershed,” he continued.
As in past years, the team is collaborating with many state and regional stakeholders and will be hiring several undergraduate and high school students to help in conducting the research. The project will provide some work force development through a GIS workshop that will be held for local community members in May 2012. Researchers will conduct outreach to the local schools by offering a 2012 summer workshop for teachers focused on incorporating research from the project into local curricula. They also plan to make presentations to high school students and their teachers in Presque Isle and Fort Fairfield about their research and opportunities for collaboration.
Researchers will work with several stakeholders throughout the study year. Each research team member will take the lead on a different component of the project, such as estimating available acreage for grass biomass purposes; engaging stakeholders, local farmers, business workers and other individuals on efforts related to the project; and collecting data through various survey instruments to conduct an economic analysis focused on the potential for grass biomass production in the area.