By Maura Adams and Rob Riley

Climate change is scientifically complex and politically fraught, yet very clear. Long-term data combined with local observation tell us that natural cycles are changing, and with significant effect. 

Maine forest webAt the Northern Forest Center, we pay special attention to news and studies about the role forests and forest products play in mitigating climate change – and to media stories that mischaracterize the carbon impact of using wood in our context. And there are many.

For example, we would have expected a more nuanced piece from climate activist Bill McKibben when he attacked every form of biomass energy in a recent New Yorker article: “Don’t Burn Trees to Fight Climate Change – Let Them Grow” (8/15/19). Like others, he fails to recognize essential lifecycle distinctions that affect the equation for carbon impact of using wood for energy in places like New England. 

By condemning use of wood for energy under all circumstances, McKibben and others dismiss an important means of reducing carbon emissions: displacing fossil fuels by instead heating homes and buildings with advanced wood heating systems using regionally-produced wood pellets or chips from managed forests. In many cases these pellets are made of sawdust that is the by-product from dimensional lumber, furniture, flooring, and other wood products manufacturing. 

The Center is working in Bethel, Rumford, South Paris and Norway, Maine—communities ranging in population from 2,200 to 5,800 residents each—to build new opportunities in the forest economy and enhance community well-being. Our projects have included:

  • Advancing high-speed internet expansion: Secured a $78,000 grant from the Connect ME Authority, to support broadband expansion across 27 communities in western Maine.
  • Helping establish a new Community Forest: Worked with residents for two years to identify recreational uses for the forest, set management priorities and develop a stewardship plan for the new 978-acre Community Forest, which supports destination development and outdoor recreation opportunities for residents.
    KBS Builders web
  • Investing in wood products: Provided technical assistance to wood product manufacturers and partnered with companies related to wood pellet heat to create quality jobs, source local wood and retain dollars in the community.
  • Providing regional coordination: Convened and facilitated Maine West, a collaborative composed of diverse non-profit partners implementing projects to secure economic, education, health and conservation benefits.

Maine West is focused on several aspects of overall community well-being. The collaborative launched the Second Nature Adventure Challenge to introduce residents to the outdoors and promote health, quality of life, and exercise; implemented a state-sponsored broadband planning process to thoughtfully expand coverage in the region; and convened multiple school district administrators to explore opportunities to strengthen links between schools, businesses, and communities, with the goal of helping students aspire to education excellence.

The work of the Maine West collaborative is strengthened by robust community engagement across the various projects and long-term support by the Betterment Fund.

By Maura Adams

Beers and Community 2James Fallows of The Atlantic and his wife, Deborah, have traveled over 54,000 miles in a single-engine prop plane to explore life in small cities and towns across the United States. In 2016, they published a list of eleven signs that a city will succeed, like strong “local patriots” and exemplary public-private partnerships. And then there’s this: “One final marker, perhaps the most reliable: A city on the way back will have one or more craft breweries… You may think I’m joking, but just try to find an exception.

If craft breweries are a clear sign of community revitalization – and we believe they are! – then things are looking bright for the Northern Forest. We’ve counted at least 50 craft breweries in the region, from Boots Brewing in Watertown, NY, on one end of the Northern Forest to Northern Maine Brewing in Caribou, Maine, on the other.

By Rob Riley

MHI 100 KatahdinImpact Investment – is that what we mean by “doing well by doing good?” In a recent On Point radio segment produced by a Boston public radio station, the host and varied guests discussed impact investments — investments in publicly trading companies or exchange-traded funds — and spent a significant amount of time debating how to measure the return on investment. Does the investment by a foundation into a screened ‘impact investment fund’ make a difference that otherwise wouldn’t have been made by another investor? Does the investor not compromise its desired rate of return by seeking out impact investments?