University of Maine / Alternative Futures Modeling for the Lower Penobscot River Watershed

Rob Lilieholm
School of Forest Resources

Initiative Description and Primary Objectives 

We are using stakeholder focus groups to develop BBN models for four land uses in the Lower Penobscot River Watershed (LPRW) and Casco Bay Region (CBR): (1) development; (2) working forests; (3) agriculture; and (4) ecosystem protection. By overlaying these land uses, we then identify compatibilities and potential conflicts in land use, and work with stakeholders to develop scenarios of future landscape change. The intent is to foster proactive (rather than reactive) approaches to land use policy. We also believe that by identifying potential conflicts and compatibilities before they arise, broader coalitions can be formed, and better decisions made with respect to land use planning and development.

Key Academic Disciplines 

Alternative futures modeling using Bayesian Belief Networks (BBN).

Key Partner Organizations and Individuals 

We’ve partnered with dozens of stakeholders across our four lands uses, as well as with university researchers, state and local officials, NGOs, and people engaged in economic development projects in the LPRW/CBR and beyond.

Initiative History and Champions 

Primary motivators include David Hart of UMaine’s Mitchell Center and Kathleen Bell of UMaine’s School of Economics. Also important was a $20 million, 5-year EPSCoR grant from the National Science Foundation.

Distinctiveness and Strategic Significance of the Initiative 

We are focused on stakeholder engagement, interdisciplinary research, and knowledge-to-action. We have included all institutions of higher education in the state in a broad-reaching program called the Sustainability Solutions Initiative. We are actively trying to link ecological, social and economic development criteria within a long-term sustainability-focused program.

Measurable Effectiveness of the Initiative 

We currently have about 20 projects state-wide, of which the LPRW project is one. Across these projects, we have leveraged the research capacity of the state, engaged stakeholders as never before, and are beginning to raise awareness and arrive at solutions to complex sustainability challenges in the areas of forest management, urbanization, and climate change.

Transferability of the Initiative 

Our BBN-approach to stakeholder-derived land suitability models and futures scenarios has application worldwide.

The Initiative’s Ability to Endure 

We are currently working under a 5-year grant and are actively engaged in securing continued funding. A Sustainability Solutions Research Center is one projected output of the grant. This should have lasting impact on the State. 

Engagement Strategies 

SSI has 25 PhD students under full stipends, 100 or so faculty, and twice that in undergraduate researchers. Our projects are all place-based, and use partnerships to promote not only problem identification, but arrive at solutions to real-world problems that should result in lasting change.