State of Maine's Environment 2007
Header image  
An Environmental Assessment  

The State of Environmental Attitudes in Maine


Anna Barnwell and Kristina Shiroka


Executive Summary


The State of Environmental Attitudes in Maine is the fourth chapter of the report The State of Maine’s Environment 2007.  This chapter focused on Maine’s residents and their relationships with the environment.  Report authors designed and conducted a survey of 51 random Maine residents.  The survey consisted of eleven questions which addressed ecological, economic, and recreational values of the environment; economic reliance on natural resources; recreation in the outdoors; and also the Plum Creek proposal.  Survey data were analyzed statistically and the results were compared with to published research.  We found that respondents were equally distributed among ecological, recreational, and economic value of Maine’s forests and wildlife, however, recreational benefits were valued slightly more for both forests and wildlife.  We found that respondents who did not hunt or fish were less likely to have an opinion about land use regulations, implying recreation is important for education and understanding.  Respondents were also relatively equally distributed between opposing, supporting, being undecided, and not knowing about Plum Creek Timber Company’s most recent proposal.  Finally, respondents who perceived their community as not being reliant on natural resources were more likely to oppose the Plum Creek Proposal.

In conclusion we found that respondents were invested in their communities and State as a whole.  Although they were concerned about environmental issues, this did not take away from concerns about Maine’s economy and tradition of recreation.  We also found that although Maine is shifting towards a service based economy, we believe natural resources will always be a part of Maine’s identity both economically and recreationally.  Finally, we recommend that a survey such as this could be useful when developing future environmental policy.  In addition, surveys provide opportunities to educate people on environmental issues. 




As demonstrated by the previous chapters, it is clear that Maine is changing.  The last few decades have brought a shift in Maine’s energy profile, land use patterns, and resource access.  These changes are all intricately tied to the growing concern for the environment that is happening not only in Maine, but nationally.  In this chapter, we assess how the people of Maine currently view their environment – what they value most about it, how they feel about changes occurring in Maine, and whether these opinions are specific to Mainers. 

            Maine has a number of unique attributes.  Known for its natural beauty, it has more coast line (3,478 miles) than the entire length of eastern North America1.  As described in Chapter 3, it contains the largest tract of undeveloped land east of the Mississippi.  These vast and diverse ecosystems not only define the unique character of the State, they provide the State with natural resources vital to its economy.  They also provide endless recreational opportunities, both for Maine’s residents and the millions of tourists who visit each year.  It is for this reason that in 1988 the official State slogan became “Maine, the way life should be”2.  This idealized description of the State still applies today, and the people of Maine often choose to live here, even if they know they might make more money elsewhere3. 

Many of the changes occurring in Maine are in response to some difficult challenges that have arisen from a changing economy and the decreasing availability of natural resources.  Because these natural resources are so abundant in Maine, there is a strong need for policies and practices that will protect them in the long term.  The lack of urban areas in many parts of the State combined with relatively low economic development statewide, may contribute to Maine’s status as the poorest state in New England.  For example, over the 1990s, payrolls decreased by 16% (adjusting for inflation)4. 

 With its forests and fisheries, Maine’s natural resources have always been its primary source of income, and further exploitation of these resources has been the easiest and quickest solution to Maine’s economic problems in the short run4.  As resource availability decreases, however, many Mainers are beginning to realize that the solution may not be so simple.  For example, as mentioned in Chapter 3, “Resource Access in Northern Maine,” forest cover is decreasing in Maine, as 5,000 to 10,000 acres of forest land are converted annually for development. 

Natural resources such as these are limited.  Alan Caron, the founder and president of nonprofit citizens’ organization GrowSmart Maine urges Mainers to ask themselves: “How can we grow without wrecking the place?”3   This balance has proven difficult to attain.  Maine’s economy has begun to shift from natural resource-based industry to service and knowledge-based industry, but this transition has brought on an economic struggle, especially for rural Maine which experienced increased unemployment rates from 2000 to 20055. 

Everyone in Maine, both the general public and policymakers, must understand the complexity, sensitivity, and finiteness of the environment in order to develop and adhere to new practices that support sustainability.  Such new practices are being developed and implemented today – many timber companies go through a costly sustainable forest certification process, fishing regulations have tightened immensely in response to collapsed fisheries, and many companies must comply with strict waste discharge regulations.  Moving towards sustainable practices, however, has been a long process.  Maine is undeniably at a turning point in its views on economic development, the environment, and how they intersect: as stated by Richard Barringer in Changing Maine, “Maine has been at a cross-roads for 40 years.”6  The question we strive to answer is, how have these changes influenced the environmental attitudes of Maine’s residents?

We describe the methods used to create, execute, and analyze a survey of a random sample of Maine’s people.  The survey was geared towards gaining a better understanding of the opinions of Mainers with respect to their environment.  The most interesting and significant trends found in our analysis of the results are addressed in the discussion.  We conclude with a reflection of how our findings may reflect the priorities and values of Mainers with respect to their environment.


Background Information

Historical Identity of Mainers and Demographic Composition

When Maine was first settled, the land was used primarily for the purpose of the agricultural and timber industries.  With the opening of the western United States, however, Maine’s population declined as people migrated towards richer agricultural lands and opportunities.  By the 1870s tourism seemed like the most feasible way to capitalize upon what Maine still had to offer: natural beauty and cultural character (see Chapter 2, Land Use Development and Planning).  Timber companies and paper mills remained a large part of Maine’s economy.  Wealthy people from further South came North looking for an escape from their urban and recently industrialized lives.  In this way, the tendency to characterize and stereotype Maine and its inhabitants began by the turn of the century7.  It was the railroad companies that first named Maine “Vacationland” in an effort to bring people to the state.  The tourism movement started the long-lasting tradition of romanticizing Maine as what it was to the people visiting it – beautiful seacoast and wildlife scenery2.  This included the conception of the people of Maine as well.  The authenticity of Maine was exaggerated by the concept of who belonged and who did not.  Publicity for travel companies described Maine as classless, rural, and simple from the start and the idea hasn’t really left today’s tourism industry of Maine.  Maine’s was recently changed from “Vacationland” to the “way life should be.” The head marketing company which designed the slogan described it as “Welcome to the way life should be.  The place where you can reestablish your life’s course, where you can set your own boundaries… America’s got only one Maine—the classic seashore, the perfect lakes and mountains, the peaceful moments of uncommon serenity, the folks who live here… This is what it is all about.  Maine is simply the way life should be.” The idea of Maine as being a tranquil escape is enhanced by the presence of the people who live there, but who may not necessarily live the romanticized life. 

It is difficult to understand who “Mainers” are when the identity is often times objectified by tourism and visitors.  Maine’s seasonal residents often do not see the impoverished, tough side of life in Maine that, in reality, is a part of the State’s identity.  The conflicted identity of a Mainer has been further intensified by the influx of newcomers to the State.  We found in our research, including conversations with paper mill executives and public officials that the contrast between the newcomer (or “from-away”) resident and the native “Mainer” is often seen as an important factor in a number of State issues.  In reality, Maine consists of a diverse and complex population that is often not acknowledged.

One example of this population complexity is discussed in the 1989 report The Commission on Maine’s Future conducted by the state government, which relied on a psychographic survey called “The People of Maine.8” This is the most current government-supported survey on Maine’s people we could find.  The survey questioned close to 800 Maine residents on various issues facing Maine in 1989 and the future.  Analysis of the survey resulted in nine categories of the people of Maine (Table 4.1).  Although these colorful categories are from 1989, they are useful to consider when we look at the range of thought and diversity that exists in Maine.  Although these categories were created prior to the increase in migrants from other states over the last 18 years, it is relevant that such sentiments existed towards the newcomers during this time.  Thus, the categories should be considered as evidence that it is not always as easy as it seems to categorize the people of Maine8.




Table 4.1 Categories from "The People of Maine" from 19898


% of Total













Young Urbanites








Evan Richert, a former director of the Maine State Planning Office, also alluded to the complexity of categorizing Mainers in one group and new-comers as another.  In a survey conducted on differing attitudes of in-migrants and native Mainers towards development on Route 1, Richert noted that “where there are differences, they frequently are a matter of degree rather than a matter of opposition.9

In addition to looking at how perceptions of the people of Maine are socially constructed, there are some basic demographic trends that have been seen in Maine during the past decades worth taking note of.  The national trend of the aging baby-boomers has led Maine to be an “old state”.  In fact, Maine is the second oldest state in the country 5.  Declining numbers in births after the baby boom have resulted in a decrease in the age 35 and under workforce.  According to the Maine Department of Labor, this age group decreased 12% while the workforce over the age of 35 increased by 67%.10. 

            Another characteristic of Maine is that racial and ethnic diversity is limited.  Maine’s population is 97% white, 0.5% African-American, 0.7% Hispanic; and 0.5% are Asian10.  In 2000, 1 of 3 Americans was a minority, but in Maine this ratio is closer to 1 in 29.  This is largely due to the fact that Maine has never had large employment centers, which have traditionally attracted immigrants to urban cities elsewhere in the country.  Maine is relatively far away from debarkation cities, and although 1 in 9 Americans are immigrants, in Maine it is 1 in 359.  The absence of minorities is seen by many as being a barrier to economic development.  In the U.S.  today, ethnically diverse companies and cities are more valued and sought after.  Also, one of Maine’s demographic trends for several decades has been the emigration of young people out of the State.  Studies show that one reason for this is that the pluralistic culture of urban centers elsewhere provide for the job opportunities and diversity that many youth seek 6.

As was mentioned in the introduction, one of the most prevalent demographic trends of recent years has been the increase in net migration to Maine.  Between 1960 and 2000, eight of Maine’s 16 counties have grown in population, especially in the southern counties of York and Cumberland (in fact, over half of the growth has occurred in these two counties)6.  Between 2000 and 2005 the median home price in Southern and Mid-Coast Maine increased by 56% 5.These changes are drastic when compared to Aroostook, Piscataquis, Penobscot, and Washington counties of northern Maine which have all experienced out migration.  Out migration has been occurring since the mid 19th century, however, it has been exaggerated by the influx of wealth to the State in some regions, while other regions have struggled6.

Goals and Objectives

            The goal of our study was to use a survey instrument to explore how Maine’s people perceive the growing tension between the need for economic growth and the need to preserve the quality of the environment, and to more fully understand why Maine residents may have these perceptions.  We sought to determine how aware Maine residents are of environmental issues, how they feel about them, and how this might shape the future of Maine’s environmental regulations.  Our objectives were to explore answers to the following questions. 



We chose to develop a survey targeting the residents of Maine because they are the people most invested in and impacted by Maine’s environment.  The survey was designed to be an easy way to gauge the average resident’s attitude towards their environment and some of the heated issues in the State.  Our survey consisted of ten questions that took five minutes to conduct over the phone or in-person.  The survey questions were developed by first determining the information that we wanted to acquire (see Goals and Objectives) and then creating questions that would give us this information.  We used two types of questions: for phone and in-person surveying it is recommended that either “Yes/No” or scaled questions used 11.  We used both of these (Table 4.2).  In order to make sure that the survey would be understood by the participants and ultimately successful, we conducted several pre-tests with classmates and other local guests.  Colleagues also provided feedback as to how to make the survey compliment the overall project.

When approached or called, respondents were asked if they wanted to participate by a friendly introduction to the authors.  We used the greeting: “Hi, I am a college student from Waterville, Maine and am conducting a survey for a class research project.  Do you have five minutes to answer some questions on Maine?”  Surveying in-person technique was more successful than surveying over the phone.  Approximately 100 people were called, and 50 people were approached in person.  We had a 20% participation rate by phone, while for in-person surveys we had a 60% participation rate.  We surveyed a total of 51 people; 20 by phone and 31 in-person.

We wanted a sample size varied in age, gender, and geographic location.  We were not able to ensure evenly distributed age groups because we felt that asking the participant’s age on the phone might result in a lower participation rate.  Gender was determined over the phone or in person.  An equal distribution of gender was maintained resulting in 49% male and 51% female respondents.  Our project’s objectives made it important for us to guarantee that geographic diversity was maintained within our sample.  In-person respondents were found in several venues but mostly along Interstate 95 from Augusta to Bangor.  We visited grocery store parking lots, local cafes, street sidewalks, gas stations, and book stores in the communities of Augusta, Oakland, Fairfield, Bangor, and Waterville.  Due to transportation limitations there were regions that we were not able to visit.  Counties that were not visited were regions where we focused phone surveying.  Phone respondents were selected by randomly choosing home phone numbers from both online and hard-copy phonebooks.  Phone surveys were conducted in the afternoon between 4pm-5pm on Sundays, and evenings between 5pm-7:30pm on weekdays.  Most in-person data were gathered during the day on weekends. 

Survey results were analyzed by using SPSS.  All figures were created in SPSS, including figures for which a statistical association was found.  To test the significance of our results, we used a Chi-Square test on the results for each survey question.  To test the significance of relationships between dependent and independent variables, we used the Goodman Kruskal tau test. 



Figure 4.1  Map of Surveyed Communities







Table 4.2 "Environmental Attitudes in Maine” Sample Survey

Survey Question

Answer Format


Community, Age, Gender:




1.  How many years have you lived in Maine?





2.  Do you consider yourself to be a Mainer?





3.  How many times in the last year have you visited a state or national park Maine?




4.  On a scale of 1 to 3 (1 being not reliant at all, 3 being very reliant) how reliant is your profession on natural resources?


  1. Not at all reliant
  2. Somewhat reliant
  3. Very reliant



5.  On a scale of 1 to 3 (1 being not reliant at all, 3 being very reliant) how reliant do YOU perceive your community’s economy is on natural resources?


  1. Not at all reliant
  2. Somewhat reliant
  3. Very reliant



6.  Maine’s forests provide many different benefits.  Which of the following benefits is the most important for YOU?


a)       Economic value

b)       Ecological value

c)       Recreational value



7.  Are you a licensed Maine hunter or fisherman?





8.  Maine’s wildlife (such as fish, moose, bear, lobster, birds) can be valued for many reasons.  Which of the following benefits is the most important for YOU?


a)       Economic

b)       Ecological

c)       Recreational



9.  In your opinion, how are Maine’s land use and land access regulations fair, unfair, or you do not know?


  • FAIR
  • Don’t know



10.  On a scale of 1 to 3 (1 being not reliant at all, 3 being very reliant) how reliant on tourism is your community’s economy?


  1. Not at all reliant
  2. Somewhat reliant
  3. Very reliant



11.  As you may know, Plum Creek Timber has asked the Land Use Regulatory Commission to rezone land near Moosehead Lake for development.  On a scale of 1 (very opposed) to 5 (very supportive), how do you feel about this proposal?


  1. Very opposed
  2. Somewhat opposed
  3. Neutral
  4. Somewhat supportive
  5. Very supportive


            In this section, we show results and trends from our survey data.  The responses to individual questions yielded some interesting results (Table 4.3).  Responses to the two questions about preferred benefit of Maine’s forests and wildlife yielded similar results – about 30% of people chose either “economic” or “ecological” benefit for both questions, and about 40% chose “recreational” for both questions (Table 4.3, items 6 and 8).  41.2% of our respondents possessed a fishing license.  58.8% either did not have a hunting/fishing license, or have had one in the past.  Over two thirds (68.6%) of respondents felt that Maine’s land use and access regulations were fair.  9.8% felt that they were unfair, and 21.6% didn’t know enough to comment.  As for opinions on the Plum Creek development plan, a little over a third (35.3%) opposed it, 17.6% supported it, about a quarter (21.6%) were undecided, and about a quarter (25.5%) didn’t know enough to comment.




Table 4.3 Comprehensive Survey Results        

Total Number of Surveyed Respondents






Percent of total



1.  Years lived in Maine












     21 and above




2.  Considers self to be Mainer












3.  Times visited state/nat’l park, 2007












     6 and above




4.  Considers profession to rely on natural resources




     Not at all reliant




     Somewhat reliant




     Very reliant




5.  Considers community’s economy to rely on natural resources




     Not at all reliant




     Somewhat reliant




     Very reliant




6.  Most important benefit/value of Maine’s forests
















7.  Possesses hunting and/or fishing license












8.  Most important benefit/value of Maine’s wildlife
















9.  Fairness of Maine’s land use and access regulations












     Don’t know




10.  Support or oppose Plum Creek's development plan
















     Don’t know







Figure 4.2 Respondents Perceived Economic Reliance on Natural Resource(s)


Figure 4.3 Individual Profession Perceived Reliance on Natural Resource(s)


One of our questions asked how reliant the respondent felt their local economy was on natural resources.  Only 9.8% of our survey respondents felt that their economy was not at all reliant on natural resources, while 43.1% of respondents felt that their economy was somewhat reliant on natural resources, and 47.1% of participants felt that their economy was very reliant on natural resources (Figure 4.2).  These differences were statistically significant using a Chi-Squared test with a p-value of .002.

Another similar question asked the respondent how reliant they felt their own profession to be on natural resources.  The majority (62.7%) felt that their personal profession is not at all reliant on natural resources; only 13.7% of participants felt that their personal profession was somewhat reliant on natural resources, and 17.6% of participants felt that their personal profession is very reliant on natural resources (Figure 4.3).  Our respondents were significantly more likely to think that their profession is not at all reliant on natural resources, but their local economy is very reliant on natural resources.  These results were found to be statistically significant using a Chi-Squared test with a p-value of .000.


Figure 4.4 Fairness and Land Use Regulations vs.  Possession of Hunting or Fishing License


            Figure 4.4 shows the possession of a hunting or fishing license as an independent variable predicting perceived fairness of land use regulations.  76.2% of participants with a hunting and/or fishing license thought that land use and access regulations were fair, which is significantly more than the 19.0% who thought they were unfair, and the 4.8% who didn’t know enough to answer.  63.3% of participants with no hunting and/or fishing license thought that land use and land access regulations were fair, significantly more than the 3.3% who thought they were unfair, and the 33.3% who didn’t know enough to answer.  These results were found to be statistically significant using a Goodman and Kruskal tau test with a p-value of .019.

We found some of our results to be statistically insignificant.  This may have been due to our small sample size.  Regardless, we found interesting trends in these data that we would expect to find even in a much larger sample size. 



Figure 4.5 Being Born in Maine and Most Valued Benefit of Maine's Forests

Figure 4.5 shows being born in Maine or being “from away” as an explanatory variable for valuing Maine’s Forests.  About 50% of “from away” respondents felt that recreational values of Maine’s forests were most important.  Answers of Mainers were more evenly distributed. 

Figure 4.6 Community Reliance on Natural Resources and Opinion of Plum Creek Proposal




                Figure 4.6 shows the respondents’ community’s economic reliance on natural resources as an explanatory variable for opinions of the Plum Creek Proposal.  Most of the respondents (80%) who were opposed to the Plum Creek proposal thought that their local economy was not at all reliant on natural resources.  Answers of respondents who chose “somewhat reliant” or “very reliant” were more evenly dispersed.







Case Study 4.1  Plum Creek: Oppose? Support? Or, What are you talking about?


Portland consulting firm Critical Insights completed a survey in 2005 and 2006 gauging support and understanding for the Plum Creek Timber Company’s development proposal.  The survey determined that while in the fall of 2005 41% of the respondents opposed the plan, 50% of respondents in the fall of 2006 opposed the plan.  Our survey, taken in the fall of 2007, determined that 35% of survey participants opposed the plan.  It is important to point out that opposition was the most popular option among our respondents.  However, it is equally important to point out that in the spring of 2006, 17% Critical Insight respondents had not heard about the Plum Creek development plan.  In our survey we also found that 25% of respondents did not know enough to comment on the proposal.  This reflects an educational and awareness gap that is not being filled if a person either opposes or supports.  For an issue that is this important to Maine, a higher rate of understanding should be maintained.  It is also worth discussing that even for respondents who were able to answer the question, comments were frequently noted about the lack of transparency on both the Plum Creek side and the side of opposition.  One potential solution for this is for the governing agencies to become more invested in making sure that Mainers know about this proposal and the reasons for its importance.  In general, although our respondents did seem to be fairly aware of the issues that we asked about, it was also clear that unless the respondent had a specific investment with utilization of natural resources, their understanding of regulations and issues may be less than the average respondent.  (See discussion involving hunting and fishing licenses and opinion of the land use and access regulations). 


Maine’s economy has shifted away from manufacturing and natural resource reliance towards consumer and business services.  This has been a challenge to Maine’s workforce both because of the loss in employment and the change in traditional economic sectors 5.  It was not long ago that the timber industry was the most prevalent economic force in Maine.  Until the 1970s and 1980s it seemed like this industry would flourish infinitely.  12  The transition away from natural resources has occurred quickly in a historical context and it is likely that residents of Maine have not had time to adequately adjust to these changes.  In 1950, blue collar jobs accounted for 60% of the Maine workforce, but in 2002 these jobs accounted for one quarter of the workforce; in this same amount of time service jobs increased by 200 percent 10. 

In our survey, the shift away from natural resource based industries was addressed by questions regarding the perception of local reliance on natural resources and individual professional reliance on natural resources.  Close to half of respondents said that they perceived their economy to be very reliant on natural resources.  When respondents were asked whether their personal profession was reliant on a natural resource economy, only 17.6 % perceived their profession to be very reliant. 

There are several potential explanations for this.  One is that our sample simply reflected a larger amount of people living in communities which are natural resource dependent, but whose professions were not natural resource reliant. 

The results show that 90.2% of respondents thought that their communities are reliant in someway on a natural resource based economy, while economic trends from the Brookings Institution and the State government’s Division of Labor show that, in fact, communities are becoming less reliant on natural resources5, 10.  Although the economy is shifting away from natural resources and towards a service-based economy, our respondents still see Maine as a state that is primarily economically reliant on natural resources. 

In the 1989 survey “The People of Maine” conducted by The Commission on Maine’s Future analysis showed that 49% of survey respondents believed that natural preservation could take priority over finding quality jobs8.  A quarter of respondents disagreed and thought that jobs rank over natural conditions.  In a State conducted 1979 survey, asking the same question yielded the opposite response.  In Commission on Maine’s Future this point is addressed by considering that the Maine economy differed drastically in 1979 and 1989.  1988 was a year of prosperity for Maine.  The report presents the State’s economy as an indicator for how people will prioritize environmental issues8.  For the time being, Mainers’ perception of the economy does not seem to be an optimistic one.  A study done by Critical Insights, a private consulting group of Portland, reported that as of spring 2007 only 9% of Maine’s people think that   the economy is better off now than one year ago, and that 37% of Maine believed that the economy will actually worsen within the next year13. 

Overall, results suggest that that our respondents perceived their local economies to be more reliant on natural resources than recent trends on Maine have shown to be true through other research5, 8.  The natural resource based economy that is now in decline in Maine may still the economy perceived by our respondents.  Where most respondents perceived their local economies to be very reliant on natural resources, the majority of respondents perceived their personal professions as not reliant on natural resources. 

Economic development in Maine is coupled in this discussion with the issue of resource access and recreational activities which we found to be the most prevalent issue on the minds of our respondents (Table 4.3).  The right to public resource access in Maine is not only important culturally, it is also mandated by law.  If property is not posted, it is open for public use.  This is usually accompanied with a sense of entitlement to the land as a common property resource, when in fact it is largely privately owned.  In the past decade property ownership has changed drastically, placing the unspoken agreement between Maine’s people and the previous land owners (such as paper companies) at risk.  The change in property ownership threatens many Maine residents’ access to these recreational lands to the north, while resource access in the south is prevented by land which is converted from rural to suburban areas (see the sections on Resource Access and Land Use and Planning in this paper). 

While resource access in Maine has been undergoing transition in the past few decades, the type of recreation for which access is important has also been changing.  Maine’s history of recreational use of these lands varies from snowmobile and ATV trail riding, to hunting and fishing, to hiking, skiing, and camping.  National trends suggest, however, that some of these activities have been decreasing in popularity, namely hunting and fishing.  Hunting and fishing as recreation has decreased, and this cultural shift parallels the reduced access to lands previously enjoyed by hunters and fishermen/women14.  This, in addition to the changes in access, can infringe upon old traditions.  One old time Maine hunter was quoted in a recent article on these changes by saying:


It is easy to simplify and say that it’s the L.L.  Bean crowd, the yuppie crowd, or the Volvo crowd, or whatever.  But basically what you are talking about is a whole generation of people, including my kids, who are not into the exploitation of wildlife.  They don’t know about it15. 


Recreational activities beyond hunting and fishing, however, are also threatened by issues of resource access.  In our survey, the ability of Maine’s government to control resource access in Maine was addressed by asking respondents whether they thought land use and access regulations were fair, unfair or they didn’t know.  A relatively high percent (68.6%) of the respondents felt that the regulations were fair (Table 4.3).  Our hypothesis was that the people who thought regulations were fair would also be respondents who did not hunt or fish.  Surprisingly, whether or not respondents considered regulations to be fair did not predict owning a hunting or fishing license.  However, respondents who did not know about land use and access regulations were less likely to own a hunting or fishing license than those who did hunt or fish.  This likely implies that possession of a hunting or fishing license influenced the respondent’s knowledge of regulations.  This suggests that, unless a respondent has had a specific experience with recreational use of the land, knowing about land use and access regulations may not be as likely.  Overall, results suggest that that our respondents perceived their local economies to be more reliant on natural resources than recent trends on Maine have shown to be true through other research5, 8.  The natural resource based economy that is now in decline in Maine may still the economy perceived by our respondents.  Where most respondents perceived their local economies to be very reliant on natural resources, the majority of respondents perceived their personal professions as not reliant on natural resources. 

Hunting, as well as other outdoor recreational activities, are valued highly by many Maine residents.  The high percentage of “from away” respondents who valued recreational aspects of Maine’s forests above ecological and economic aspects may indicate that forest-related recreation (skiing, camping, hiking, and motorized recreation) could be part of the reason newcomers chose to move to Maine.  As mentioned in the Background Information section, half of the statewide population increase between 1960 and 2000 occurred in York and Cumberland counties, the two wealthiest counties in the State6.  Between 2000 and 2005, the median home price in southern Maine (where York and Cumberland counties are located) increased by 56%5. 

This also plays to the common perception of “two Maines,” northern and southern, where northern Maine is much poorer and under-developed, while southern Maine is more urbanized and progressive16.  This idea is supported by the influx of wealthier non-Mainers to southern Maine – if southern Maine has a much higher percentage of wealthy non-Mainers, a discrepancy between ideologies between north and south can be expected. 

Most of the respondents (80%) who were opposed to the Plum Creek proposal thought that their local economy was not at all reliant on natural resources (Figure 4.6).  This may demonstrate an inability of people whose communities are not dependent on natural resources to understand that other communities are in fact very dependent on natural resources.  They may feel that the Moosehead Lake region needs to be left pristine, and fail to recognize that appropriate development and forest harvesting may be necessary for residents of the Moosehead region to bring revenue to the community.  Such development might include constructing attractive lodging to bring in tourists, organizing forest-related recreation, and harvesting timber.  Residents of a town whose economy is not reliant on natural resources may lack a full appreciation for the economic benefits of forests and other natural resources.



Our goal was to gain a better understanding of Mainers and their relationship with the environment.  After speaking with such a diverse group of people, we believe that we have gained a better understanding of what it means to be a Mainer.  We noticed several trends. 


Mainers are invested in their communities and state as a whole

In carrying out our survey, we noted that most people surveyed seemed to be very familiar with the concepts that we presented.  People often answered questions quickly and with conviction, indicating that they had already given considerable thought to the issues we asked them about.  Many respondents were engaged and often enthusiastic to explain why the question meant something to them.  For example, one man complained about people with large tracts of land posting it and letting only their friends hunt on it.  An elderly woman, in explaining her appreciation for nature, described a deer standing on its hind legs to eat an apple from the tree outside her window the week before.  Many, when answering our question about Plum Creek, became very excited and launched into a passionate discussion of the difficulty of the situation and the needs of the local residents.  This demonstrates a sense of investment in the community and issues they face.  This investment is also evidenced by our relatively high response rate, especially for in-person surveys.  While some respondents seemed skeptical when first approached, most agreed and seemed excited to do the survey when told that we would be asking them about Maine. 


Mainers are concerned and aware of environmental issues, but these values do not trump economic concerns

Earlier in the chapter, we discussed the pessimistic views of many Maine residents towards the economy.  This may be the reason for many respondents’ lack of prioritization of the environment in Maine.  In our survey, fewer respondents chose the ecological benefit of Maine’s forests and wildlife than they did recreational and economic benefits.  Based on these results, we believe that had we asked a similar question to the one in the 1989 Commission on Maine’s Environment survey about whether quality jobs or nature preservation were most important, it is likely that our survey’s respondents would have placed jobs ahead of the environment. 


Though Maine has shifted towards a service-based economy, Maine’s natural resources will always be a large part of the state identity

Though it was clear that the economy is of concern of many to our respondents, recreational value of Maine’s environment was the most prevalent among our respondents.  It is clear, at least from our respondents, that recreational access to land should be maintained because of its importance to the public.  This was also evidenced by the enthusiasm that we encountered when addressing the question concerning the fairness of Maine’s land use regulations.  The most common source of conflict arose from the posting phenomenon which inspired frustration in people across a number of different towns in Maine.  For more on posting, see Chapter 3. 

Although Maine has moved away from being completely reliant on natural resources due to an increased understanding that this will not be possible to do so indefinitely, the fact remains that most Maine residents identify closely with some aspect of natural resources.  Almost half of our respondents (41.2%) possessed a hunting and/or fishing license, much more than the national average (about 5% of Americans hunt)15.  Other forms of outdoor recreation are also very important to many Maine residents, and this was evidenced in our survey, both by the data and by the enthusiasm of participants when discussing these issues with us.  The “recreational” preferred value of the environment in our survey questions was the most popular option (as opposed to “ecological” and “economic”), and if Maine residents feel that their right to resource access, particularly for recreational reasons, is being threatened, they have been known to strongly oppose whatever is threatening this right (see Chapter 3).  Although this has sometimes led to opposition of conservation projects (see Case Study 4.1), it has also led to opposition of development projects (such as the Plum Creek proposal, see Case Study 4.2).  The importance of recreation and resource access to Maine residents will likely continue to be a big factor in the preservation of Maine’s environment. 



In assessing the future development of Maine, a survey like ours can be a useful tool for future policy creation

In our research, we only found five surveys that have been done on attitudes of Maine residents towards environmentally-related issues in the past 30 years.  If used as an official indicator of the attitudes of all Maine residents, a survey should have a larger sample size and the questions should be more precisely formulated to avoid confusion and bias.  This would be possible if sufficient government resources were allocated to the effort.  Policymakers should have such data available when formulating new policy so that the finished product can somewhat reflect the concerns and desires of those who will have to adhere to the policy. 

Surveys not only provide useful information to policymakers, but also serve a double purpose of making the public more aware of issues while they are conducted.  Participants are forced to think about their opinions regarding important issues and realize that their opinion matters. 
Works Cited


1.         Maine Campground Owners Association. Maine Camping Guide: The Official Site of the Maine Campground Owners Association. Accessed: 11/5/07 (2006).

2.         Lewis, G. H. The Maine That Never Was: The Construction of Popular Myth in Regional Culture. Journal of American Culture 16, 91-99 (1993).

3.         Caron, A. Charting Maine's Future (Lecture, Waterville, ME, October 10, 2007).

4.         Pierre, J. S. Rescuing the Heart of the Maine Woods. Adirondack Journal of Environmental Studies, 7-12 (2002).

5.         Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program. Charting Maine's Future: An Action Plan for Promoting Sustainable Prosperity and Quality Places.  (2006).

6.         Mageean, D. & Sherwood, R. in Changing Maine 1960-2010 (ed. Barringer, R.) (2004).

7.         Vail, D. in Changing Maine 1960-2010 (ed. Barringer, R.) 428-449 (Tilbury House, Gardiner, ME, 2004).

8.         The Commission on Maine's Future. The People of Maine (Market Decisions Inc., South Portland, ME, 1989).

9.         Richert, E. in Changing Maine 1960-2010 (ed. Barringer, R.) 211-234 (Tilbury House, Gardiner, ME, 2004).

10.       Maine Department of Labor. Trends and Implications for the Maine Workforce (Division of Market Labor Information Services, Augusta, ME, 2005).

11.       Sudman, S. & Bradburn, N. M. Asking Questions: a Practical Guide to Questionnaire Design (Jossey-Bass, Inc., San Francisco, 1982).

12.       Irland, L. C. in Changing Maine 1960-2010 (ed. Barringer, R.) 363-387 (Tilbury House, Gardiner, ME, 2004).

13.       Critical Insights. Critical Insights on Maine (Portland, ME, 2007).

14.       Kellert, S. R. The Value of Life: Biological Diversity and Human Society (Island Press, Washington, D.C. , 1996).

15.       Goldfine, R. Hunters and Healers: Social Change and Cultural Conflict in Rural Maine. Visual Studies 18, 96-111 (2003).

16.       McManus, G. The Two Maines: Separate But Not Equal. Bangor Daily News (September 1998).




State of Maine's Environment, Colby College Environmental Studies Program
Content by Students in ES493: Environmental Policy Practicum
Philip Nyhus, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies
5358 Mayflower Hill, Waterville, ME 04901 USA; Email Us