University of Maine News
Jeff Lord concedes he does a lot of sitting, watching and waiting along the herring ladder at Highland Lake. But when gangs of alewives begin to leap and flop their way upriver from Mill Brook, his patience is well rewarded.
“It can get a little boring, so I really appreciate when there is action,” the Falmouth resident said as he gazed at the rushing waters. “It’s a chance to put my biology background to work at something that matters.”
Lord and about 13 other volunteers keep count of migrating herring, mainly alewives, as they make their way up fish ladders to traditional freshwater spawning areas. The newly established volunteer monitoring program is a joint research project of UMaine and University of Southern Maine (USM). Scientists want to see if volunteers can help government managers and university researchers amass important data on spring run alewife — something likely too expensive to accomplish otherwise.
The now-retired Lord, who has a Ph.D. in entomology, saw a chance to use his biology knowledge in a public service capacity. He sees citizen programs as a way to engage the public by introducing projects that affect their home turf: “I think that as more people get involved in this type of project and communicate with others, there will be more support for these kinds of conservation efforts,” Lord said.
The role of citizen science in sustainable river herring harvest is the focus of a $96,600 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Growing out of a project at UMaine’s Sustainability Solutions Initiative, a program of the Senator George J. Mitchell Center, the overall goals are threefold:
- To study volunteer monitoring of river herring in Maine, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire, assess successes and difficulties and produce a road map useful to other groups interested in similar citizen science programs
- To help pilot communities develop these citizen fish-count programs while assessing the accuracy of the resulting data
- To explore the role of these programs, in local, state and regional fishery management
UMaine co-principal investigators are Karen Hutchins Bieluch, visiting assistant professor of communication and journalism, Linda Silka, director of the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center and professor of economics; and Laura Lindenfeld, associate professor of communications and journalism and the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center. Co-principal investigators from USM are Theodore Willis, adjunct assistant research professor of environmental science; and Karen Wilson, assistant research professor of environmental science. Jason Smith, master’s student at USM, is the project research assistant.
Volunteers for pilot projects in Windham and Pembroke, are already hard at work using good old-fashioned manual clickers to count as many fish as possible. Data from the Windham project is checked against recordings from a video camera installed by researchers. If the video and citizen counts match, the pilot program will be a viable alternative to expensive and difficult to maintain counting equipment, project scientists say.
This past year between 49,000 and 62,000 alewives climbed the Highland Lake ladder in Windham. The huge range occurred because a first wave of fish began leaving the lake before stragglers had finished migrating upstream, researchers say. It created some confusion for the volunteers, they said, something to iron out as the project moves forward. Though researchers hope to eventually have good estimates of newly spawned river herring streaming down the ladder, this first year focused mainly on citizen science group formation and learning methodology. Next year, researchers hope for a deeper pool of volunteers who will be ready to go by the start of migration in May. And if the adult count goes well next year, focus can shift to the little ones leaving the lake, which can number in the thousands per hour.
The big question: Can citizens be engaged in counts long term? USM fisheries scientist Willis thinks herring are charming enough to sustain interest.
“River herring are one of the few marine species that people can interact with because they swim inland to where we live,” Willis said. “There are dry spells in the counting, but then there will be 830 alewife an hour zipping past you. Early in the run there were thousands of fish piled up in the stream trying to work their way up the ladder.”
So much so that half the total count for 2014 was tallied in the first five days, Willis said.
Maine is one of only three states currently harvesting river herring and maintaining a viable fishery has been tough. Though herring fisheries are managed locally, they must comply with criteria issued by the Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR). Among the rules:
- Herring harvest populations must be self-sustaining and not supplemented by outside stock. Noncompliance can result in a four-year shutdown.
- Total adult population must be estimated at 235 fish per surface acre.
- A run must demonstrate a healthy spawning survival rate and a good older age population.
“What we’re beginning to learn from our interviews is that these volunteer monitoring programs provide critical data for managers assessing the sustainability of a run for harvesting population trends, and the effectiveness of particular restoration efforts. More than just collection of data, these programs help build a sense of community around a local resource and increase local awareness of the fish. A sense of stewardship is essential for protecting river herring, now and in the future” said investigator Hutchins Bieluch.
Researchers are hopeful that this project will not only help jumpstart new monitoring programs, but will also facilitate communication between volunteers, local government officials, harvesters, and managers.
Contact: Tamara Field, 207.420.7755
The Maine Water Resources Research Institute (WRRI), a program of the Senator George J. Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions, joins the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), stakeholders and academic partners in recognizing the importance of the pivotal Water Resources Research Act (WRRA) on it’s 50th anniversary.
Signed into law in 1964 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, WRRA established a research institute or WRRI in each state and Puerto Rico. In his official statement, President Johnson said the WRRA “will enlist the intellectual power of universities and research institutes in a nationwide effort to conserve and utilize our water resources for the common benefit. The new centers will be concerned with municipal and regional, as well as with national water problems. Their ready accessibility to state and local officials will permit each problem to be attacked on an individual basis, the only way in which the complex characteristics of each water deficiency can be resolved… The Congress has found that we have entered a period in which acute water shortages are hampering our industries, our agriculture, our recreation, and our individual health and happiness.”
Maine’s WRRI “provides leadership and support to help solve Maine’s water problems by supporting researchers and educating tomorrow’s water scientists. Our goal is to generate new knowledge that can help us maintain important water resources,” said John Peckenham, Director of the institute and Associate Director and Senior Research Scientist at the Mitchell Center.
The Maine WRRI has supported the study of problems such as harmful algae blooms in Maine’s rivers and lakes, arsenic in drinking water, stormwater management, lake acidification and water pollution control techniques. The institute also sponsors the annual Maine Water Conference, bringing together people from across Maine who are connected with water resources to share experiences and make new alliances.
Mitchell Center scientists say WRRI grants have facilitated valuable research over the years.
“The grants help faculty and students conduct meaningful research that aids in the management of streams, rivers, and lakes in Maine,” said Sean Smith, Assistant Professor in the School of Earth and Climate Sciences. “It is difficult or impossible to manage and rehabilitate Maine’s freshwater resources effectively without knowledge of how the freshwater systems work and an understanding of how humans affect them. The WRRI grants provide a mechanism for advancing this knowledge and understanding in Maine.”
In 2014, the Maine WRRI is supporting research at Sebago Lake, the drinking water supply for the greater Portland metropolitan area. Led by Smith, the project seeks to quantify connections between geography, land cover, climate and hydraulic conditions within tributaries draining to the lake. The connections between these factors are at the heart of major pollution concerns throughout the Northeast. The research seeks to help guide land use planning, pollution management, aquatic habitat conservation, and public water supply protection.
Another WRRI project in Lake Auburn, a source of drinking water for the Lewiston/Auburn area, is focused on increased levels of phosphorus in the lake. This could compromise public health and eventually result in a water treatment filtration requirement that could result in a greater cost to the community. The work supplements the existing knowledge of the lake and its results will enhance lake and water supply management strategies. The research team is led by Aria Amirbahman, professor of civil and environmental engineering; Stephen Norton, Distinguished Maine Professor, professor emeritus, Climate Change Institute and School of Earth and Climate Sciences; Linda Bacon, Lakes Program, Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
Contact: Tamara Field, 207.420.7755
Why do some landowners embrace sustainability and conservation in their environs while others ignore these concepts altogether? This was one of the main questions Michael Quartuch explored in his doctoral research at UMaine’s Sustainability Solutions Initiative (SSI).
It’s a complex query. As part of SSI’s People, Landscape and Communities team (PLACE), Quartuch, a recent Ph.D. graduate of SSI and UMaine’s School of Forest Resources, wanted to know what lurked beneath the surface of land use decision-making.
“At a broad level, my research focused on understanding and predicting the ways in which humans interact with and shape the surrounding environment. I was very interested in identifying why people are motivated to act sustainably. Specifically, I wanted to explore whether and to what degree landowner stewardship ethics influence individual land use decisions. Similarly, I wanted to test the role landowner place attachment and sense of community play in terms of influencing behavior,” Quartuch said.
Led by associate professors Kathleen Bell and Jessica Leahy, the PLACE team studied small landowners in Maine to develop solutions on key fronts. The team surveyed landowners in an effort to better understand their concerns, attitudes and behaviors. The responses are helping the team to identify outputs of interest to landowners and key stakeholders who frequently interact with them, including local businesses and local and state governments.
“The ability to tap into landowners’ moral and ethical connections with their land, including sense of place and community, has the potential to influence attitudes and behavior. Research findings suggest that landowners feel real responsibility for their property, a sense of stewardship that is evident in both their environmental attitude and their perception of their ability to act on these beliefs,” Quartuch said. “With this information in hand, we can deviate from traditional outreach and education efforts, concentrating on future conservation and sustainable development initiatives.”
Quartuch, a native of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, has accepted a postdoctoral research associate position at Cornell University in the Department of Natural Resources, Human Dimensions Research Unit. Quartuch’s research will focus on a variety of social aspects associated with wildlife management and conservation.
Supported by National Science Foundation award EPS-0904155 to Maine EPSCoR at the University of Maine.
CompositesWorld and The Maine Edge reported engineers with University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center are working with NASA to perfect the Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator (HIAD) using UMaine’s inflatable technology expertise. The HIAD is described as a spacecraft nose-mounted “giant cone of inner tubes” stacked like a ring toy and is intended to slow a spacecraft as it enters a planet’s atmosphere, making it possible for a spaceship large enough to carry astronauts and heavy loads of scientific equipment to explore Mars and beyond. UMaine Composites Center engineers used the same inflatable technology for their groundbreaking Bridge-in-a-Backpack.
James Dill, a pest management specialist with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, was quoted in a Portland Press Herald article about Maine seeing an increase in tick-bite illnesses other than Lyme disease. Cases of anaplasmosis and babesiosis, which can seriously affect health if undetected, are at or nearing record levels in the state, according to the article. Dill said the good thing about illnesses from ticks is they can be treated with antibiotics. “That’s why, when we have a tick bite, we always tell the individual to contact their physician, especially if people find a tick that is attached and it has started to feed,” he said. He also stressed the importance of having a dedicated tick laboratory at UMaine, which would be funded if voters support Question 2 on the November ballot.
David Erb, senior R&D program manager at the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center, and Jake Ward, UMaine’s vice president for innovation and economic development, were selected as members of the Maine Technology Institute’s executive committee by the institute’s board, according to a Bangor Daily News article about MTI’s interim leader. The executive committee will advise Brian Whitney, director of business development and innovation for the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, as he takes over as the acting director of MTI, the article states. The executive committee also will review applicants for the permanent post as president of MTI.
James Dill, a pest management specialist with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, was quoted in an Associated Press article about Northeast berry growers learning how to combat an invasive fruit fly — the tiny spotted-wing drosophila — that wiped out 80 percent of some farms’ late-season fruit two years ago. Growers in Maine, the country’s largest producer of wild blueberries, are spraying and harvesting sooner and planting earlier varieties, the article states. “You take a loss, but the loss is on green berries rather than having to put more pesticides out there,” Dill said. The Portland Press Herald, Yahoo! News and Fox Business carried the AP report.
Technology developed at the University of Maine was mentioned in a Boston Globe article about UltraCell Insulation, a Newton, Massachusetts startup that aims to recycle cardboard boxes into cellulose insulation for homes. The company’s technology was developed and tested at UMaine, where researchers came up with a process of separating contaminants from cardboard and adding a proprietary mix of borate chemicals to make the material fire retardant, the article states. The university owns the technology patent jointly with UltraCell.
WABI (Channel 5) reported on a brunch held at the University of Maine to honor more than 100 senior high school students from every Maine public school who were awarded a scholarship by Sen. George Mitchell. The program, which was started by Sen. Mitchell, aims to expand opportunities for students and help them succeed, according to the report. “He started this out of his own background where he understood how important it was to have somebody give you a scholarship, mentor you, support you and guide you through the four years of college,” said Meg Baxter, president of the Mitchell Institute.
Research being conducted at the University of Maine was mentioned in a Huffington Post article titled, “Who grows our food: Wild blueberries, honeybees and Wyman’s of Maine.” According to the article, Wyman’s is funding honeybee preservation studies at UMaine and Pennsylvania State University because wild blueberries rely on honeybees for pollination, and the honeybee population is declining.
WGME (Channel 13) spoke with James Dill, a pest management specialist with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, for a report about studies that show a correlation between lone star tick bites and severe allergies to red meat. Dill said the lone star tick is not established yet in Maine. “We’ve had a few cases of it, most of them seem to appear to be people who have traveled out of state and have come back in,” he said, adding Mainers should still take precautions such as walking in the center of a trail, tucking pants into socks, wearing tick repellent and wearing light clothing so the ticks can be seen easily.
David Loper, director of operations at Fiber Materials Inc. in Biddeford, told Mainebiz the company has a strong engineering department with a fairly large population of Maine-based professionals, including University of Maine graduates. “We’re trying to create an environment to grow engineering resources, and over the last 10 years we’ve done a good job to hold talent,” he said. The company also gives young engineers the opportunity to step into a leadership role earlier in their careers, according to the article.
University of Maine economist Philip Trostel was cited in a WalletHub article that ranked school systems in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. School systems were ranked using 12 metrics — including student-teacher ratios, dropout rates, test scores and bullying incident rates. WalletHub found New Jersey, Massachusetts and Vermont, respectively, have the best school systems. Schools in Washington, D.C. were ranked last. Those in Mississippi and Alabama rounded out the bottom three. Maine tied for 17th with Illinois. Trostel said from a public finance perspective, tax exemptions for school items are bad public policy because they benefit nonpoor families more than poor families and come with a high public cost. “There are probably about $20 in tax benefits to nonpoor families for every $1 of tax benefits to poor children,” he said. “If we really want to help poor children with their education, we should take those $21 and use them for programs that directly help them, and just them.” Peers are the single most-important factor of a top school, he said. When it comes to student success, Trostel said both family and school are important, but in general, family matters more.
James Breece, an economics professor at the University of Maine, was interviewed by the Portland Press Herald for an article about a report recently released by the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis that found Mainers spent more than the national average on goods and services including gasoline, groceries and health care in 2012. Nationally, Maine ranked 13th in consumer spending and 32nd in median household income, according to the article. Being a relatively low-income state, the spending trends probably mean many Mainers are cutting back or forgoing savings, Breece said, adding “Mainers can’t afford to save money.” He also said many of the statistics make sense, including that Mainers spend more per capita on health care, most likely because of Maine’s higher population of older citizens.
WABI (Channel 5) spoke with participants in the Way to Optimal Weight, or WOW, program offered to children through a partnership between the University of Maine and Eastern Maine Medical Center. The program is designed to get children and their parents involved in building a healthier and more active lifestyle by offering instructional components on eating right and physical activities at the New Balance Student Recreation Center. Miles Gagnon, a UMaine student and physical trainer who works with WOW participants, told WABI he has seen improvement and more confidence among the children.
The Portland Press Herald, WABI (Channel 5), Maine Public Broadcasting Network, Bangor Daily News and Mainebiz reported a $20 million National Science Foundation EPSCoR grant will establish a Sustainable Ecological Aquaculture Network (SEANET) program in Maine. Maine EPSCoR at the University of Maine will use the grant to mobilize the collective capacity of Maine’s coastal science resources to establish SEANET, a research network focused on sustainable ecological aquaculture. The public-private partnership led by UMaine, in collaboration with the University of New England and other institutions, will use the state’s 3,500-mile coastline as a living laboratory to study physical oceanography, biophysical, biogeochemical, socioeconomic and policy interactions that have local, bioregional, national and global implications. Paul Anderson, director of SEANET at UMaine, told MPBN the grant offers a good opportunity to look at how aquaculture can be part of the seafood sector by working with the commercial fishing and tourism industries.
The University of Maine’s Forest Bioproducts Research Institute (FBRI) was mentioned in a Working Waterfront article about wood chips that will be shipped from Eastport to Killybegs, Ireland. Phyto-Charter LLC will be in charge of exporting the wood chips after heat treating them as required by the European Union, the article states. The company will phytosanitize the chips on board the shipping vessel with a heat-treating system developed with FBRI. Phyto-Charter recently received certification for its system, the first such certification in the U.S. for the wood chip product, according to Chris Gardner, port director.
The Sun Journal reported the University of Maine 4-H Camp and Learning Center at Bryant Pond is teaming up with Mahoosuc Pathways, an organization that promotes outdoor adventure and connects communities in the Mahoosuc Mountain range of western Maine and northeastern New Hampshire, to offer leadership training for 10 high school students. A Mahoosuc Pathways employee told the Sun Journal the two organizations are paying students to get leadership training by helping build trails on local public conservation lands in August. The project, called the Oxford County Conservation Corps, began two years ago, after Mahoosuc Pathways began looking for a way to get students involved in building and maintaining local trails.
WABI (Channel 5) reported on a five-week program sponsored by the Maine Department of Labor’s Division for the Blind and Visually Impaired and held at the University of Maine. Six students are taking part in the Vision Quest program on the Orono campus where they stay in dorms, attend class, eat in dining halls and participate in learning labs. The program aims to strengthen skills such as self-advocacy, test taking and time management, according to the report.
Richard Judd, a University of Maine history professor, was quoted in a New York Times article about Millinocket titled, “A paper mill goes quiet, and the community it built gropes for a way forward.” In the late 1970s and early ’80s, between 4,000 and 5,000 people were employed by Great Northern in the area, and Maine was among the leading papermaking states, according to the article. “I don’t think there’s any question that Millinocket, right through the ’70s, was one of America’s leading centers for paper production,” Judd said.