ORONO — A $7 million grant from the National Science Foundation will fund a four-year statewide collaborative project led by the University of Maine to foster resilient forest communities in Maine.

Maine-FOREST, or Forest-based Opportunities for Resilient Economy, Sustainability and Technology, will expand the state’s research and educational capacity to connect human and ecosystem focused innovations and services. The project takes an integrated thematic approach to fuel the state’s forest-based economy and the rural communities it supports. Key foci of the project include artificial intelligence and informatics; wood-derived alternatives to plastic, concrete and more called cellulosic nanofiber bioproducts (CNF); rural and Wabanaki resilience; and economically diverse rural development.

Maine-FOREST will ultimately nurture adaptive community resilience and strengthen the capacity of rural communities and the Wabanaki Nations to respond to current and future socio-ecological threats and opportunities.

The grant provides $4.5 million for scholarly activities at UMaine as well as $2.5 million for collaborative activities led by project partners across the state that include nonprofits, private colleges and three additional University of Maine System campuses. The award also includes an opportunity to secure an additional $4.5 million to extend Maine-FOREST for three additional years.

“Maine-FOREST is a multiyear, statewide effort that will help transform the state’s forest-based economy by leveraging new innovations and knowledge that link to other ongoing efforts like the state’s ambitious Climate Action Plan or Forest Opportunity Roadmap, as well as prior NSF investments. Integrating new knowledge on the forest with emerging products and rural communities is essential for future climate-smart progress in Maine,” said Aaron Weiskittel, professor of forest biometrics and modeling, director of the Center for Research on Sustainable Forests and the project’s lead investigator.

The incubator teams created through Maine-FOREST will close key strategic gaps in the state’s ability to capitalize on pioneering technology in the forest products sector and forge culturally inclusive approaches to collaboration across partner networks.


A key deliverable for the project is a forest economy and workforce dashboard updated in near real-time to help Maine’s forest products sector make data-driven decisions. It will also help support the Maine Economic Development Administration University Center, led by UMaine Economist Andrew Crawley, a co-principal investigator on the grant, to steward the dashboard and guide future efforts.

Maine-FOREST will also help create a new forest sector business development faculty position through a partnership between UMaine and the Maine Forest Service. Through this effort, a statewide Maine-FOREST Institute will help sustain collaborative partnerships and ensure the successful translation of innovation into economic impacts.

“Maine-FOREST strategically aligns well with Maine’s recent EDA Forest Bioproducts Advanced Manufacturing Tech Hub effort, which aims to establish Maine as a global leader in forest-based biomaterial production and manufacturing by innovating the process of extracting biological building blocks to manufacture environmentally sustainable products,” said Brian Whitney, president of the Maine Technology Institute, which is partnering on the project. “Given Maine-FOREST’s research emphasis on CNF and other emerging technologies like AI, as well as the creation of a statewide research institute, the proposed project will help advance our EDA Tech Hub and support the development of Phase II proposals in the coming years.”

The rural and Wabanaki resilience and smart rural development themes under Maine-FOREST will also directly impact 10 diverse, rural and economically distressed Maine communities and Wabanaki Nations. The Maine-FOREST team will use community-driven approaches to problem and solution identification to help envision alternative future trajectories for residents. A key focus is to help rural students see potential future educational and career pathways for success in these local communities, rather than pursuing opportunities elsewhere.

Maine-FOREST also includes plans to engage and collaborate with K-12 schools in Maine’s forest communities.

“Through Maine-FOREST, Maine Mathematics and Science Alliance (MMSA) will partner with Maine TREE and Rural Aspirations to expand interdisciplinary leadership, place-based learning and entrepreneurial opportunities for rural schools. We are honored to be a part of this collaboration and highlight the critical skill of codesigning evaluations of educational project outcomes in environmental education,” said Ruth Kermish-Allen, executive director of the MMSA who is also a principal investigator of the project.


“Investments through Maine-FOREST will double the size of the Maine TREE Forest Ecology Research Network and help Rural Aspirations disseminate its stability model, an inside-out design process where teachers, administrators and select community representatives codesign school and community systems that incorporate social and economic development challenges into learning experiences. MMSA will help our partners evaluate the impact of their educational programs, ultimately improving the learning experience in 15 K-12 schools for 200 educators and nearly 2,000 students.”

The project taps into the Pine Tree State’s rich network of nonprofits and universities. In addition to UMaine, Maine-FOREST includes the University of Southern Maine, an emerging research institution; the University of Maine Fort Kent and the University of Maine at Presque Isle. Other partners include Colby College, Bates College and the Maine Development Foundation. The grant will directly support more than 45 faculty, 85 undergraduate students, 10 graduate students and four postdoctoral researchers. The project will help strengthen connections between the state’s universities and nonprofit organizations through direct collaboration and partnerships.

“This investment from NSF’s E-RISE RII program powers scientific progress through broad networks of researchers, institutions and organizations that will significantly enhance STEM research capacity in our EPSCoR jurisdictions,” said NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan. “We are investing in a future where EPSCoR jurisdictions are even more competitive in the scientific enterprise, both nationally and internationally.”

Maine-FOREST is one of five projects awarded nationwide through the NSF’s new Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) Research Incubators for STEM Excellence Research Infrastructure Improvement (E-RISE RII) program that aims to create and cultivate sustainable networks of diverse research teams to collaborate on locally relevant research critical jurisdictional research priorities.

UMaine is the only institution in the nation to lead projects from both of NSF’s new E-RISE and Collaborations for Optimizing Research Ecosystems Research Infrastructure Improvement Program (E-CORE) EPSCoR programs. The E-CORE-funded Maine-SMART was announced in May.

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