STEUBEN, Maine — The Down East Research and Education Network has commissioned a study to determine the economic impact of conservation efforts in Washington and Hancock counties.
The study will analyze the economic value of conservation, research and education, of the regional land trust and conservation organizations as employers, and of the region’s aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems for their natural resources, according to Barbara Arter, director of the network.
“Studies show that this region contains many of the cleanest, most natural and least developed watersheds in the eastern United States,” network president Lisa Heyward said in a news release issued by the group Monday. “The information generated from this study will be used to help municipalities, planners and landowners make informed land-use decisions. ”
The network hired Phillips Consulting in Clinton, which includes two researchers from the University of Maine department of economics, to perform the study. The project also will employ several University of Maine students who will help gather data.
The study is expected to be completed by December, said Arter, who discussed the project Tuesday.
“One of the things we really want to look at is … the contributions of conservation organizations to this community,” said Arter.
There are about three dozen conservation organizations with operations in the region, she noted.
“They all have employees, and they’re all bringing in money from various places. The question is, ‘What role do they play in the economy?’”
Similar studies have been done in other parts of the country, Arter said, though she was uncertain whether they examined specific economic contributions of conservation organizations.
“That is fairly new,” she said. “That is pretty unique.”
When asked whether the study would look at the economic impact of people who are drawn to the region for its natural resources, either to visit, own a summer home, or to live, she said, “There’s no real statistic or data that can be used to quantify what you’re asking. We have the exact same question.”
A similar study was conducted 10-15 years ago to look at the economic impact of creative arts to the Maine economy she said.
“That, actually, is what — in my mind — prompted this,” she said.
The project is sponsored by the group’s fiscal agent, Frenchman Bay Conservancy, and is funded by the Elmina B. Seawall Foundation, the Davis Conservation Foundation, the Maine Community Foundation, and the Hancock and Washington County Funds of the Maine Community Foundation.
About 16 percent of Hancock County and 28 percent of Washington County are designated in some form as land conservation, including parks, preserves, refuges and easements, Arter noted. Significant natural assets in the two-county region include over 200,000 acres of ponds and lakes, 4,300 miles of streams and rivers, 1,000 miles of coastline and 2,700 square miles of forest.
The region also has 13 land trusts, 16 conservation organizations, 4 colleges and 5 research institutes.
The network promotes collaboration of conservation efforts among researchers, educators, landowners, conservation organizations and local governments in Hancock and Washington counties.