The Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research

Between 2009 and 2014, a team of UMPI professors received $416,000 in grant funding from the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research [EPSCoR] to study the sustainable development of the Aroostook River Watershed. The most populated region in northern Maine, it encompasses the communities of Presque Isle, Caribou, and Fort Fairfield. From 2012 to 2014, that work has focused on assessing the feasibility and sustainability of grass biomass production for central Aroostook County.

EPSCoR is a program under the auspices of Maine’s Office of Innovation. EPSCoR grants are awarded by the National Science Foundation to states that are typically not targeted for research grants. The funding UMPI received was part of a larger grant led by the University of Maine in Orono and the University of Southern Maine.

Details of Year Five Research

Aroostook County has experienced a considerable decline in farm acreage since its peak in the 1940’s.  While some of this land was converted to tree farms or other uses, much of it remains idle, in some stage of succession, or is mowed annually to maintain future land use potential. Many see this idle acreage as opportunity for current or future economic development, either through energy crops or increased production of food and feed crops in the future.

During Year 5 of EPSCoR research, the team collated its findings from the previous year and created a comprehensive assessment of the feasibility of grass biomass production in central Aroostook County. The team had previously quantified the land resource using GIS and satellite imagery, conducted economic analyses, opened a dialogue with stakeholders, surveyed landowners, and assessed economic, production and ecological factors.

Using an analysis of historical land use patterns and current land use based on high-precision GIS mapping, the team engaged a variety of local stakeholders to think about future land use changes. Outreach consisted of public presentations and forums, convening an advisory group of important stakeholders, and a variety of smaller reports. A major effort focused on completing a 12-lesson unit for K-12 teachers and working directly with a group of three to four teachers and three high school students to implement the curriculum.

The team, led by Dr. Jason Johnston, Assistant Professor of Wildlife Ecology, included Dr. Andrew Plant, Assistant Professor at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension; Dr. Kimberly Sebold, Associate Professor of History at UMPI; Dr. David Vail, the Adams Catlin Professor of Economics, Emeritus, at Bowdoin College; and Dr. Chunzeng Wang, Associate Professor of Earth and Environmental Science at UMPI.

As in other grant years, the team collaborated with many state and regional stakeholders and hired several undergraduate and high school students to help conduct research.

UMPI EPSCoR Grass Biomass Feasibility Report

High Precision Land-Cover-Land-Use GIS Mapping and Land Availability and Suitability Analysis for Grass Biomass Production in the Aroostook River Valley, Maine, USA