Since the Center was founded in 1997, we have rallied people around a vision for the region’s future that is built on three essential ingredients: thriving communities, healthy forests and innovative and resilient local economies.
The Center's mission is to build economic and community vitality while fostering sound forest stewardship across the Northern Forest of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York.
The Center's programs advance innovative strategies in modern wood heat, wood products innovation, Community Forests, Tourism development, tax credit financing, regional strategy and more.
The Center envisions a future for the Northern Forest where a healthy forest supports a strong, locally based economy; the economy supports thriving communities and people. And the people who live in the region safeguard the forest.
Imagine What Is Possible
Picture your favorite Northern Forest community and the whole region bolstered by a new relationship between people and place. Consider a new energy economy that uses locally sourced wood pellets for heating, retaining millions of dollars in our regional economy, supporting jobs in forestry, logging, pellet manufacturing, trucking and more. Homeowners and businesses will save money and reduce their net carbon dioxide emissions.
Imagine the Northern Forest as a worldwide destination for tourism, based on top-quality tourism providers—lodges, inns, professional outdoor guides, rafting and canoeing companies, restaurants and more—providing high-quality experiences to visitors and year-round jobs that pay well for employees.
Imagine a vibrant and innovative wood product manufacturing sector that provides consistent, well paying jobs by producing the highest value products. Add to this scene a new Community Forest that stabilizes forestland ownership and earns income for the town by selling timber, carbon credits and wood for modern wood heating, while also providing easy access for recreation.
These visions of the future rely on a healthy, productive forest and the kinds of new economic opportunities that the Center’s programs are creating across the region.
The Center embraces and promotes core beliefs about the region and its potential which guide its programs and mission delivery. We believe:
- A commitment to treat the land well, honor its many values, and steward it for future generations is essential to successful long-term community and economic development.
- Use and conservation of the region’s natural resources should directly benefit local communities.
- Empowered local voices and ideas will be the foundation of the region’s long-term vitality.
- Integrated approaches to economic, community and environmental issues are fundamental to bringing people together, reducing conflicts and accelerating change.
- Regional cooperation and learning is vital to addressing systemic rural challenges.
- Bold vision, leadership and risk-taking are needed to capitalize on emerging opportunities.
"The Center is working at both ends of the spectrum in New York to strengthen our forest-based economy. They bring regional experience to help shape new strategies, such as the Renewable Heat New York program, while at the delivery end, they are helping wood product manufacturers innovate to adapt and thrive."
The Northern Forest of northern Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York is home to more than 2 million people who live in rural communities, larger towns and small cities surrounded by the largest intact forest in the eastern United States. Over a 10,000-year history, people here have continually adapted to the challenges and opportunities presented by the natural world. More recently, they have also adjusted to the national and global forces that have led to dramatic changes.
A Region in Transition
The past several decades have brought constant change for the people, communities, and landscape of the Northern Forest. Global economic pressure has caused forest-based industries to shed tens of thousands of jobs, altered markets for Northern Forest products and services, and spurred continuous land sales. At the same time, millions of acres of forest have been conserved through easements and purchases. These changes have brought significant challenges and new opportunities for the region.
Some regions would never recover from the immensity of change that has been heaped upon the Northern Forest. But the people and communities here are resilient. They have a deep connection to the land and are ready to build a new future for this great region using its greatest natural asset—the forest.
The Northern Forest is at an important point of transition. The aging of the region’s industrial infrastructure and population, the opening of new areas of forest economy around the world, soaring energy costs, climate change and new demands on the region’s natural resources have all combined to create challenging realities.
These new realities require new approaches. Unlike an earlier era, when large corporations provided financial capital to build wealth and employment in the region, the next generation of economic development in the Northern Forest will be led by smaller businesses and civic organizations. In an increasingly global marketplace, the region’s leaders must do more to inform and connect people and provide financial support and infrastructure to enable new ventures to thrive. This capacity building is the key to rebuilding the economic future of the Northern Forest. The Center is coordinating public policy, promoting new public and private investment and building and supporting collaborative networks to make sure the region builds a strong economic future.
The Northern Forest region can turn these challenges around and create a strong economy that is compatible with conservation of the working landscape. The building blocks for this new economy include:
- Modern Wood Heat, which uses local, renewable wood and keeps money circulating in the regional economy.
- Tourism that provides world-class visitor experiences and creates jobs that pay well.
- Wood Products Innovation that creates competitive companies that support and create new jobs in the industry.
- Carbon & Water market opportunities that reward landowners for the environmental services that their forest provide, such as carbon storage, water and air filtering.
- Community Forests that generate economic and social benefits for the community while conserving the forest.
The region’s 30 million acres of vast forest, lakes, rivers, wetlands, farms, hills and mountains are the source of its regional culture, quality of life, and economic opportunity now and into the future. It is nationally significant as a storage vault for carbon, as a filter for air and water, and as a place for recreation and renewal for millions of people.
The Northern Forest stretches nearly 400 miles from New York’s Tug Hill Plateau and Adirondack Mountains, across Lake Champlain and Vermont’s northern Green Mountains and Northeast Kingdom, New Hampshire’s North Country and White Mountains and Maine’s Western Mountains, North Maine Woods and Downeast Lakes to the border with Canada.
The forest grows spruce, fir, pine and hardwoods, including the sugar maple, beech, birch, and both white and black ash. In addition to innumerable lakes and wetlands, all of the major rivers in the Northeast—the Hudson, Mohawk, Connecticut, Merrimack, Androscoggin, Kennebec, Penobscot and the St. John—spring from headwaters in the Northern Forest.
The Northern Forest is the native land of the Iroquois and Algonquin peoples; it was the birthplace of the modern paper and timber industry and the cradle of American mountain exploration, skiing and snowboarding. The Northern Forest was the first great wilderness European settlers encountered in the New World. It has been called America's First Great Forest. The people of the Northern Forest are among its greatest assets. Human history, culture, arts and innovations have made the region what it is, and will play a key role in shaping its future.
The culture and heritage of the Northern Forest grow from the forest itself and from people's intimate connections to the land. Artists and intellectuals such as Thomas Cole, Frederic Church, James Russell Lowell and Henry David Thoreau made the region famous with their descriptions of the Northern Forest as a place for people to escape the congestion and pressures of city life and find spiritual renewal.
Modern cultural icons reflect our continued connection to the land: the famous Bean boot, the 1980 Winter Olympics, the Von Trapp Family Lodge, the Long Trail and Appalachian Trail, and more. Folksongs and storytelling keep the region’s history alive, and skilled craftspeople pass on traditions such as woodworking, basketmaking, spinning and weaving.
More than 1,100 towns and small cities dot the Northern Forest landscape, and they share many ecological features and cultural traditions. Yet Northern Forest communities are diverse in social and economic trends and conditions, settlement patterns, and industrial structure. Communities range from isolated rural villages to fast growing recreation hotspots, to struggling former industrial towns struggling to find new economic bases. Read more about the region's changing social and economic status.
Based on population, the Northern Forest has higher voter participation, less violent crime, more historical societies, more arts organizations and more independent business than the more urban and suburban areas of the Northeast. Not surprisingly, the Northern Forest also has more “good air quality” days, more forestland and reserves, and more trails per capita than communities in the southern parts of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York.