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March / April 2003


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UMaine Today Magazine


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If a catastrophic oil spill like the one that recently fouled the coast of Spain happened in the waters off Maine, the state's marine economy would suffer. But how would the state accurately determine those costs from declines in commercial fishing stocks to lost tourism dollars in order to collect damages from those responsible for such a spill?

Helping Maine assess the value of its marine resources so it will be in a better position to recoup losses in the event of a spill is the focus of a study by the University of Maine's Margaret Chase Smith Center for Public Policy. The research is sponsored by Maine Sea Grant.

The work is critical to the state because Portland is the third largest crude oil port on the East Coast. Oil-carrying vessels also sail to Bangor, Searsport, Eastport and to St. John, New Brunswick.

"There is a real possibility that Maine could have an oil spill that would impose very large costs on the state's marine economy," says Jonathan Rubin, the center's interim director and the principal researcher on the project. "Determining losses from oil spills is very difficult due to both methodological and data problems. Effort should be spent now preparing the groundwork to enable a better assessment of damages."

In 1996, the tanker Julie N, carrying 8.8 million gallons of fuel oil (the same oil that spilled into the Atlantic off Spain last fall), struck a bridge abutment on its way into Portland Harbor. Nearly 180,000 gallons of oil spilled into the Fore River. In addition to fisheries damage, estimated economic losses included 300 lost tour boat trips, 4,862 lost recreational boat trips, 225 lost whale-watching trips and 1,380 lost or diminished trips on a walking trail near the spill site. Officials acknowledged that the damage was underestimated because not enough data existed to measure total lost use of recreational resources.

To remedy this problem, the Margaret Chase Smith Center will develop baseline data on recreational uses of Maine's coast. The study will focus on recreation and tourism, the largest parts of Maine's marine economy. Extensive data already exist on the size and value of commercial fisheries.


Studying climate at the South Pole

When a team of University of Maine professors and students arrived at the South Pole in early January, it was the first time in almost a half-century that a scientific team reached the destination by traveling over the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and through the Transantarctic Mountains.

Watching the historic moment as well as the researchers' three weeks of travel by sled train to collect snow and ice cores were teachers and public school students from Maine to Oregon.

Both the expedition and educational uplink were made possible by funding from the National Science Foundation.

The researchers were completing the fourth in a series of expeditions across the West Antarctic Ice Sheet to collect environmental data about the southern continent. The team was led by Paul Mayewski, professor of geological sciences and director of the UMaine Institute for Quaternary and Climate Studies, who developed the idea for the International TransAntarctic Scientific Expedition (ITASE). Team members include Research Assistant Professor Gordon Hamilton and four graduate students.

Because of its geographic position and unique environment, Antarctica holds important keys to questions about global climate. In addition, the research will provide clues to the fate of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which is thought to be vulnerable to changes in climate and sea levels.

Schoolchildren communicated with the UMaine researchers through a Web link (www.ume.maine.edu/USITASE/) managed by the Institute for Quaternary and Climate Studies. The public followed the expedition's progress via a Boston Museum of Science Web site (www.secretsoftheice.org).


From stump to ship

A 30-minute silent film made in 1930 and donated years later to the University of Maine is one of 25 selected to the National Film Registry, Library of Congress, for 2002.

From Stump to Ship, filmed and scripted by Alfred Ames, president of Machias Lumber Co., documents a dying chapter of Maine's logging history. The black-and-white film captures timber harvesting by woodsmen and horses, river driving, milling of logs and loading of lumber onto schooners.

As a National Film Registry selection, From Stump to Ship is considered one of 350 "culturally, historically or aesthetically" significant films. The registry was created to reflect the breadth and diversity of American motion picture heritage. The 2002 film selections were created between 190191.

The original film of From Stump to Ship was donated to UMaine in 1970. Fifteen years later, with a grant from the Maine Humanities Council, funding from the university and corporate sponsorship, the film was restored by Maine-based Northeast Historic Film.


Older adults RSVP

Older adults have the expertise and time to help their communities. Charitable groups often are in need of volunteers and advice. Now the Center on Aging at the University of Maine is bringing them together.

With a $90,000 grant, the center will administer the region's Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), a decades-old federal project that pairs healthy, active adults over the age of 55 with organizations in need of volunteer services. The renewable annual funding comes from the Maine Bureau of Elder and Adult Services, and the Corporation for National and Community Service, which administers Senior Corps programs like RSVP. Additional funding and support comes from the university's School of Social Work and the College of Business, Public Policy and Health.

Under the university's stewardship, RSVP will expand and move in new directions, says Lenard Kaye, director of the Center on Aging.

"Sponsorship of RSVP serves to further underscore the Center on Aging's deep commitment to providing real-life community services that will make a genuine difference in the lives of older adults and the communities in which they live," says Kaye.

Working with the university's Maine Business School, Kaye plans to establish a new executive division in RSVP. Through this program, volunteers with financial management, budgeting and fund-raising expertise will be paired with non-profit groups in need of such services.

In addition, senior volunteers will be involved in homeland security-related organizations like the Red Cross. They will staff shelters, provide counseling and assist in the agency's response to local emergencies. Volunteers also would be placed with town and county emergency management offices.

"We anticipate that (the Center on Aging) will bring only the highest level of innovation and expertise in designing high-impact volunteer placement opportunities for seniors in Maine," says Shireen Tilley, director of the Corporation for National and Community Service for Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.

The Center on Aging is taking over administration of RSVP from the United Way of Eastern Maine, sponsor of the program since 1987.


Monitoring the birth of the free press in Bosnia

A University of Maine assistant professor of journalism is in Bosnia this spring to study how journalists are gathering information as Bosnia-Herzegovina transitions from state-controlled to privately owned media.

Shannon E. Martin received a Fulbright Scholar Award for teaching and research at the University of Sarajevo. It is Martin's second trip to Bosnia-Herzegovina. In 2000, the International Research and Education Exchange invited her there to train journalists to use Internet resources.

"My research springs from a fundamental principle of information distribution as the linchpin in effective self-governance," she says. "The media provide the forum for presenting ideas, problems and solutions. I tell my journalism students that they are the information seekers for their neighbors, and it's their job to make sure everyone has the information to make good decisions."

However, in Bosnia-Herzegovina people are less confident of journalists as information conduits, Martin says. They are accustomed to the government dicta coming through the state-controlled media, and the media are not yet confident enough to challenge the government consistently.

Martin's research hopes to shed light on who is setting the agenda for public discourse in Bosnia-Herzegovina. She has conducted extensive research on the agenda-setting function of the mass media and information controls by the government in the U.S.

She is the author of Bits, Bytes and Big Brother: Federal Information Control in the Technological Age and Newspapers of Record in a Digital Age: From Hot Type to Hot Link (with Kathleen Hansen). Her third book, The Function of Newspapers in Society: A Global Perspective (with David Copeland), will be published this spring.


Teaching alternatives

In mid-coast Maine, an innovative alternative certification program created by the University of Maine College of Education and Human Development is helping schools address the teacher shortage. Since 2001, UMaine, in partnership with the area superintendents' association, has offered the two years of coursework, intensive training and strong support needed to put conditionally certified teachers in classrooms.

The preparation dovetails with Maine's Initial Teacher Certification Performance Standards and licensing provisions.

Based on the initiative's success, UMaine recently received a five-year, $1 million Transition to Teaching grant from the U.S. Department of Education to expand the program to other parts of the state. With conditional certification, school districts in the program are recruiting and hiring mid-career professionals with strong subject matter skills and successful backgrounds, as well as recent college graduates with outstanding academic records and majors in areas other than education.


Improving Katahdin

A breed of sheep that got its start in Maine in the 1950s is attracting international attention because of improved internal parasite-resistance research by scientists at the University of Maine and Bowdoin College.

The Katahdin hair sheep breed is not rare. In fact, it is the fifth most popular in the U.S., out of more than 20 commercial breeds.

UMaine researcher Stanley Musgrave, emeritus professor of animal science, was involved in early work with the breed. Today, Richard Brzozowski, a UMaine Cooperative Extension educator in Cumberland County, and Tom Settlemire of Bowdoin College are working on improving the breed for market.

Current research focuses on the genetics and biology of parasite resistance in the Katahdin. The result could benefit sheep breeders in Maine and the Northeast.

Katahdins are known for their hardiness, and some carry a gene that makes them resistant to scrapie, a type of spongiform encephalopathy that is related to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) in people.

In recent years, interest in Katahdins has been shown by the government of China, as well as the Gates Foundation.

An international conference on Katahdin hair sheep is slated for Oct. 16 19 in New Gloucester, Maine.


What it means to get old in the woods

As they get up in years, spruce and fir trees change in predictable ways. Their growth slows or even stops. Their needles get thicker, and new branches develop a shortened, gnarled appearance.

With support from a three-year National Science Foundation grant, University of Maine and Oregon State University scientists are trying to get to the root of why such changes occur in these and other species. The results could lead to improvements in predicting forest growth and help scientists understand the role of forests in global environmental cycles, says Michael Greenwood, the Ruth Hutchins Professor of Tree Physiology at UMaine.

Slower growth means trees absorb less carbon an important factor in the current global climate change debate.

"We don't really understand what causes trees to go through developmental stages," says Greenwood. "There are a couple of theories, and there is undoubtedly a genetic component, but we don't know what triggers the process."

In tree years, old age varies considerably by species. Balsam fir rarely approach 100 years old, but spruce can live as long as 150200 years. The oldest eastern white pine, located in New York state, is 450 years old, but such long-lived examples are rare. On the other hand, bristlecone pines, said to be the oldest recorded trees on Earth, are more than 3,500 years old.

Greenwood and Michael Day, an assistant scientist in UMaine's Department of Forest Ecosystem Science, are collaborating with Barbara Bond of Oregon State to test two theories of tree development. One theory suggests that changes in old growth are due to environmental or physiological factors, such as a lack of nutrients or increasing resistance to sap flow. Another theory suggests that developmental changes are genetic and may be irreversible.

The truth may include parts of both theories, says Greenwood. To find out, researchers will graft branches of both old and young red spruce and Douglas fir onto trees of different ages. They will monitor growth, sap flow, photosynthesis rates and other factors. The goal is to understand how the grafted branches are affected by the age of the host trees.

Previous research by Day and Greenwood suggests that the growing tips, or meristems, of old red spruce retain some sort of memory after they have been separated from the large trees from which they grew. There is evidence that meristems from old trees maintain their old- growth characteristics even after being grafted onto young trees, implying that gene expression in growing tips changes as trees age or grow larger beyond reproductive maturity.

"If we understand what triggers development, we may be able to get the branch to grow like a young tree again," Greenwood says.


4-H and veterans

In an effort to provide educational and community service experiences for young people in the state, Maine 4-H has created a new program that will link veterans' groups with youth organizations.

The basis of the new program is a plan to connect veterans with 4-Hers and youths in other organizations, such as scouting and school groups, to place flags and plant flowers at cemeteries beginning Memorial Day 2003.

"The young people and the veterans will both benefit from their association in this program," says Richard Brzozowski, a UMaine Cooperative Extension educator in Cumberland County. "By meeting and working closely with veterans, the members of the youth groups will develop a tangible connection to an important part of history."

Cooperative Extension provides the staffing for 4-H programs statewide. More than 16,000 Maine children, ages 5-18, participate in 4-H programs each year.

 

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