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Research Projects - Landowner and Public Acceptance of Bioproducts in Maine

Who’s Involved?

Research Introduction

Forests have the potential to yield a wide array of high-valued bioproducts as new processes, products, and markets emerge; cost barriers are overcome; and markets and public support grow. Increasingly, the emergence of a bioproducts sector that can augment and/or replace petroleum-based products is seen as a critical step in transitioning the U.S. economy toward energy independence and a more sustainable, renewable resource based future. In Maine, interest in forest-based bioproducts has reached a critical threshold due to:

  • The state’s large forest resource and location near major U.S. population centers;
  • A well-established, well-diversified forest products industry;
  • The University of Maine’s (UMaine) newly-created $10-million bioproducts research program, jointly funded by the National Science Foundation and the State of Maine.

Existing bioproducts research at UMaine is focused principally on process and product engineering and ecosystem impacts of the emergent industry. Although this information is fundamental, it is insufficient without an accompanying contextual analysis of the social and cultural factors that will ultimately determine whether key stakeholder groups accept, support, and sustain the industry. Indeed, of the three factors needed for sustainable development, the approach thus far has been to address economic and ecological feasibility, while largely ignoring social acceptability.

Research Details

As a new entrant to Maine’s forest products sector, bioproducts are likely to alter the structure of the industry in fundamental ways due to the unavoidable impacts on supply chains, production facilities and operations, distribution channels, and primary and secondary customers. As a result, the short- and long-term viability of the industry depends upon the perceived opportunities, threats, costs, and benefits on the part of these primary stakeholder groups, and upon their subsequent reactions. In addition, the industry may be profoundly affected by secondary stakeholder groups such as state and local governments, advocacy groups and NGOs, and communities both near harvest and production locales and elsewhere (primary and secondary stakeholders are represented below in Figure 1). For example, public concern or landowner reluctance to participate in biomass harvests could limit industry supplies and place upward pressure on the price of biomass feedstocks, thereby impacting the industry’s profitability by raising the price of bioproducts vis a vis petroleum-based rivals.

An understanding of the perceptions, beliefs, and attitudes of all these potential stakeholder groups – as well as an understanding of their interrelationships and relative power – is critical to both industry development and effective policy making. Our research will contribute a much-needed understanding of the relevant stakeholder groups, attitudes, and interrelationships as they affect the emerging Maine bioproducts industry.

Project Objectives

The overall goal of this research is to determine the important interests and attitudes of both primary and secondary stakeholder groups, as these will affect the establishment of a sustainable bioproducts industry in Maine. We have three primary objectives:

  1. Identify and describe existing and emerging bioproducts industries in Maine, the U.S., and abroad.
  2. Conduct an assessment of primary and secondary stakeholder groups and their awareness, willingness to participate, interrelationships, and attitudes towards bioproducts harvesting and supply processes.
  3. Conduct a general population mail survey of 2,000 Maine households to assess their knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs about bioproducts and bioproducts harvesting.

What’s New on this Project?

Over 60 interviews have been completed with key primary and secondary stakeholders. Approximately 20 more interviews are planned, and most completed interviews have been transcribed and are in the process of being coded for content analysis. The breakdown is as follows:

  • Forest landowner interviews completed
  • Forest industry interviews on-going (75% completed)
  • Secondary Stakeholder interviews on-going (100% completed)
  • About 50 interviews transcribed so far, textual analysis on-going

The interviews are intended to inform the general public mail survey, planned to be sent to 2,000 Maine households in January. Thus far, a draft survey is completed, with finalization pending on completing the coding and analysis of interviews.

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