The State of Maine’s Islands

Ruthie Hawley, Sara Miller, Mark Vargas, and Connor Whitley

Executive Summary

The “State of Maine’s Islands 2014” is the third chapter in The State of Maine’s Environment 2014, a report produced by the Environmental Policy Group in the Environmental Studies Department at Colby College in Waterville, Maine. In this chapter of the report, we analyze the status of Maine islands by using four separate proxies; tourism, conservation, the lobster industry, and energy.

There are more islands in the Gulf of Maine than on the entire East Coast of the United States. These islands vary in physical size, human population, and distance from the shore. They are often thought of as last frontiers, communities and natural environments that remain relatively untouched by modernity. Examining the current state of allMaine’s islands was beyond the scope of this project. Instead, we focus on the 15 unbridged, year-round island communities in Maine.

We examine four aspects of island life including tourism, conservation, the lobster industry, and energy. We analyze laws, institutions, and stakeholders related to our four subtopics and conduct primary data analysis, and offer recommendations specific to those four areas. For tourism, we find that there is a dearth of information that documents the role that humans play in shaping life on Maine’s islands natural environments. In other words, research that compares the bridged, unbridged, seasonally populated, and islands visited by daytrippers with untouched islands is necessary to provide more informed policy recommendations. Second, we find that a reevaluation of the state’s tax policies for corporate entities such as AirBnB is warranted. We find Maine’s islands need to increase their total conserved land. Conservation easements are the most successful form of conserved land on Maine’s islands, and local land trusts are the most efficient way of managing conserved land. Existing framework for the creation of easements as well as Land for Maine’s Future funds support land trusts in the creation of new conservation easements going into the futureWe find that the unbridged islands’ lobster industries would benefit from local management through the Island Limited Entry Zone Program. We find that community engagement and government support are equally important in in providing cheaper and cleaner energy for Maine’s unbridged islands.


“On these islands is an underlying tautness that characterizes much of this lovely coast. It is the tension between rootedness and impermanence, between bounty and failure, between ungiving rock and shifting sand. This cold coast is silent witness to the enduring truth that human enterprise may come and go, may rise and recede like the tide, and that sea and granite alone may endure.”

                                                                                                                                                                      -Philip Conkling, Islands in Time, 1999

There are over 4,000 islands in Maine and they are as diverse as they are numerous. Some are designated nature preserves, others are large rocks that are only visible at certain tides, while still others are inhabited year-round. Throughout Maine’s history, year-round islanders have endured more intense environmental events than those who live on the mainland. Fogs are thicker, storms are stronger, and yet islanders continue to live in these remote locations out of tradition and a love for participating in island life (Conkling, 1999). Island communities are geographically fragmented, however islanders are tied together by “their tenuous position nurturing a way of life that is posited towards the past but which whey want to see endure into the future” (Conkling, 1999).

Currently, only 15 unbridged Maine islands support year-round populations, and they serve as the focus of our study (Table 3.1). They are concentrated in Casco Bay, Penobscot Bay, and off the coast of Port Clyde (Figure 3.1). Although they vary in size and population, these 15 island communities share some commonalities as a consequence of their isolation from the mainland. They are for the most part reliant on the mainland for food, energy, and healthcare. They face future challenges including but not limited to aging populations, declining school enrollments, limited employment opportunities and an overall elevated cost of living (The Island Institute, 2012). Many of them have conserved land that is managed by federal, state, and local entities. Two industries in particular sustain their economies: fishing and summer tourism (Bernard, 2010). All of the island communities experience relatively large increases in population over the summer months when compared with Maine as a whole. In 2010, 63% of island housing units were used seasonally and left uninhabited in the winter, compared with 16% of housing units across the state (The Island Institute, 2012). Additionally, islands are closed loop-systems, what they expel into their environment they receive back as consequences.

Table 3.1 The 15 unbridged year-round communities along with their year-round populations, characterized by the region they are found along the coast of Maine

Great DiamondA91
Long IslandA230
North Haven C355
Islesboro C566
Isle Au HautC73
Great CranberryC40


Figure 3.1 A map portraying the locations of the 15 unbridged island communities separated into three sections. Section A represents the islands in the Portland region. Section B shows Monhegan and Matinicus, two islands off the mid-coast between Boothbay Harbor and Port Clyde. Section C shows the remaining islands located in and to the east of Penobscot Bay.

We use tourism, conservation, the lobster industry, and energy as proxies to analyze the broader social, economic, and environmental issues of Maine’s islands. We focused on the 15 unbridged communities because a majority of the available literature is targeted towards these islands, and the issues these islands face are exaggerated due to their geographic isolation. If we look strictly at population, there are approximately 4,400 residents among all the year-round, unbridged communities. By comparison, Mount Desert Island, a bridged island off the coast of Bar Harbor, has 10,000 year-round residents. Therefore, our study represents only a small part of the total number of people who live on Maine islands, as well as in the rest of the state.


Directing our study towards the 15 unbridged island communities allows us to explore how the presence of people and isolation from the mainland affect these topics and how they impact Maine’s islands. We analyze the current status of tourism, conservation, the lobster industry, and energy in order to determine the factors that affect Maine’s islands and how those factors could be influenced going into the future. The overall aim of this report is to provide recommendations for each of the sub-topics to improve the state of Maine’s islands.


We used ESRI ArcGIS to create maps of the Maine’s islands (Figure 3.2, Figure 3.3, Figure 3.5, Figure 3.6, Figure 3.8, Figure 3.9). We developed these maps with data we obtained from The Island Institute, Maine Office of GIS, and Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR).

We found data on tourism difficult to obtain. We were able to obtain quantitative data on taxable sales, tourism based population changes, and lodging availability through The Island Institute,, and the Maine State Office of Tourism. We supplemented these data with qualitative data from existing literature and a survey that we sent to innkeepers located on the 15 unbridged islands in Maine. We received IRB approval from Colby College prior to administering our surveys to ensure our surveys were ethical. We sent the survey to 12 innkeepers throughout the state and 4 innkeepers responded.

Data regarding conservation on Maine islands came from Maine Office of GIS as well as GIS data sites from throughout New England. We analyzed the percentage of conserved land on the islands, in the state of Maine, and in the rest of the New England states. We looked at conservation on all of Maine’s islands through several metrics, including square mileage and the proportion of islands with conserved land. In order to determine how the presence of people as well as different management system affected the amount of conserved land, we then focused on the 15 unbridged island communities.

We examined the state of the lobster fisheries within these communities through quantitative data on lobster licenses, live landings, and input costs facing lobster harvesters, all of which we obtained from the Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR). We analyzed the number of lobster licenses issued to island communities as a proxy for the number of individuals participating in the industry and their fishing effort. We utilized historical data on the value and poundage of live landings in Maine to assess how climate change might affect these islands’ lobster resources in the future. We also collected qualitative data on the issues facing lobster harvesters on the islands through discussions with stakeholders during visits to The Island Institute and the Vinalhaven Lobster Co-Op.

We obtained quantitative data regarding island energy prices from reports published by The Island Institute. The 2008 Cranberry Island report provided qualitative data on the current energy use trends on Maine islands (Cranberry Island Report 2008). We used data from The Island Institute and the Fox Islands Electric Cooperative to analyze potential for renewable energy on the islands in the forms of tidal and wind power. This included a case study of the Fox Islands Wind Project, a community-driven alternative energy project that powers two of Maine’s unbridged islands.


There are a variety of stakeholders that influence Maine islands, ranging from visiting tourists to the federal government. Islanders, or year-round residents on Maine islands, are especially relevant to the island communities because they are constant factors that influence the status of the islands.  Fishermen and women that hold commercial lobster licenses are influenced by the freedom or restrictions set out in fishery management practices. Additionally, island innkeepers, or hotel manages and bed and breakfast owners are especially relevant to tourism due to their influence on the tourism lodging industry. Tourists also hold a stake in Maine’s islands because of their visits throughout the year, and their large contribution to the 3rd quarter earnings. Commercial tourist groups and restaurants also impact Maine islands because of their affect on the tourism and lobster industry.

The Island Institute is a prominent NGO working with Maine islands. Additionally, groups such as Monhegan Island Sustainable Community Association and Maine Island Trail Association are important sources of leadership for mitigating future challenges that the islanders face.

There are several land trusts active on Maine islands. The Maine Land Trust Network is a key player in conserving island land, and is present on 8 of the 15 unbridged island communities. Specific land trusts working on the unbridged island communities include but are not limited to Maine Coast Heritage Trust, Vinalhaven Land Trust, Chebeague and Cumberland Land Trust, Isle Au Haut Conservation Land Trust, and Oceanside Conservation Trust of Casco Bay.

Federal agencies administer and allocate funding on land for Maine islands. The National Park Service (NPS), National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Council (ASMFC), all hold a stake in the status of Maine’s islands. State agencies also affect the islands and include but are not limited to Maine State Department of Marine Resources (DMR), Lobster Advisory Council, Land Use Planning Commission (LUPC), Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands, Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, and Maine Department of Revenue Services. Town management bodies of each of the unbridged island communities also have a large impact on the islands because they are the local management system to oversee all aspects of the islands.

State of Maine Islands

In this section we analyze the state of the 15 unbridged islands relative to our subtopics in the following order: tourism, conservation, the lobster industry, and energy. Within each of those sections, we first examine relevant laws and institutions, then the current state of those topics, and then discuss our major findings.


Maine’s unbridged islands are an important aspect of coastal tourism in Maine. However, the islands’ geographic isolation and smaller capacity for tourists makes tourism on the islands different from tourism in mainland coastal towns. We begin our discussion of island tourism by exploring the different laws and institutions that affect the industry on the islands.

Laws and Institutions

Where tourists stay and what tourists do while visiting islands are two important aspects of Maine island tourism that are influenced by Maine State laws. The most relevant laws affecting tourism on Maine islands relate to property rights and shoreland access, as well as taxation and permitting (Appendix B). Together, taxation regulation and access laws affect the relationship between year-round islanders, island tourists, and the islands’ natural resources. Access laws facilitating access rights to the shoreline, which is important to these islands’ primary economies: tourism and the lobster industry (Kallin, 2008). Taxation and permitting pertaining to cottage rentals and innkeepers play an important role in shaping community culture through tourism (Stone, 2013).

Shoreland Zoning and Recreational Access Rights

Maine is unique because it gives waterfront property owners domain of the shore out to mean low tide: the line on the shore made by the average of all the low tides as calculated over a long period of time (Maine Sea Grant, 2014). However, through the 1647 Colonial Ordinance, also referred to as the Maine Fishing, Fowling, and Navigation Law, the public is allowed to use the water at high tide and the mud at low tide if they are engaged in any of the three aforementioned activities (Appendix B). However, if the Maine Government has a strong interest in either preserving coastal access (on the shore or in the water) for public recreation, it can procure privately owned land through eminent domain. Eminent domain is when the government utilizes its ultimate power to seize private shoreline property to meet the demand for justified public access; this process is called a “taking” by eminent domain (Kallin, 2008). Many tourists come to Maine hoping to explore its unique coastline; therefore shoreline access is an important part of Maine’s coastal recreational culture (Ednie, 2010). Different types of legalized public access are shown in Table 3.2.

Table 3.2 There are 5 types of shoreland access distinguished in Maine land use policy. Year-round islanders and tourists often have the same desires for shoreland access, but not necessarily the same rights. If property owners do not negotiate access agreements under their own terms and their property is viewed as a prime recreational or working waterfront property, it’s possible that the state government could “take” the property through eminent domain to ensure the public or industry has shoreland access the state has deemed necessary (Kallin & Heimes, 2008).

Access TypeDescription
Remote AccessVisual or psychological access
Physical AccessHow one gets from one place offshore to the beach
Physical Use AccessWhat the public is entitled to do once on shore
Perpendicular AccessA subset of physical access: getting to the shore from a road or path
Horizontal AccessA subset of physical access: Moving along the shore parallel to the waterline

Through Maine’s trespass law, property owners are legally entitled to prevent the public from accessing their property above the mean low tide line (Appendix B). However, in some cases property owners may have the desire or feel pressure to provide the public with beach/shore access to prevent the Maine government from “taking” the shoreline. A less aggressive alternative to “taking” would be for the property owner to submit their waterfront land to the Working Waterfront Access Pilot Program (WWAPP) and negotiate a more suitable contractual agreement or a tax write-off that is beneficial to the property owner. Property owners also negotiate unwritten agreements with neighbors regarding guest access to shoreline to reduce conflict. For example, sandy beaches are few and far between. Property owners may allow guest access to their properties to avoid a government taking in which recreational access for the public may be warranted.

Commercial operations (such as fishing vessels) have greater access rights to private shoreline than recreational tourists (such as kayakers) (Kallin, 2008). Therefore, although short-term tourists and year-round islanders face the same shoreline needs in the form of recreational and horizontal access, they do not necessarily have the same shoreline access rights (Ednie, 2010). In Maine, year-round islanders and summer residents often own the shoreline while day-trippers and weekend tourists use the shoreline in short and sporadic increments as guests (Ednie, 2010; Island Institute 2011).

Some islanders own shoreline property (such as sandy beaches, which are far fewer in number than rocky beaches in Maine) that is a strong candidate for government seizure by eminent domain. Therefore, these islanders have a motivation to negotiate public access to their private properties. This could take the form of either a written contract with a town or a verbal agreement with neighbors, which would lessen their properties’ status as potential candidates for eminent domain seizure by the Maine Government. Negotiating shoreline access rights for recreation will mean that this land is not further developed in the future. Therefore, these negotiations of produce a de facto relationship between tourism and land conservation.

Taxation Laws, Permitting, and Innkeepers

Island communities also partake in the tourism industry by providing lodging in the form of hotel, cottage, and campsite rentals. Running and maintaining these facilities is expensive. State registered inns and bed and breakfasts face a host of permitting requirements, from sprinkler laws to food safety inspections (Maine Innkeeper’s Association, 2013). Additionally, as of 2005, all rentals of living quarters including vacation homes, cottages, condominiums, and camps in the state of Maine are subject to an 8% sales tax (Maine Innkeeper’s Association, 2013).

In our survey, island innkeepers reported that most state and local laws related to taxation and permitting are difficult to comply with. One innkeeper said that the permitting process was the most difficult for her. Another innkeeper was more concerned with the sales tax. Even though she runs a small bed and breakfast (B and B), she does not pay sales tax to the state. And even though she markets her inn as a B and B online, she said of her business, “the State does not know I am a B and B and they never will.” It appears that although the State has strict tax laws for lodging facilities, they do not engage in due diligence to assure that inns on Maine islands are properly permitted. This is includes the state’s handling of properties that are being rented by islanders (and other Mainers) through AirBnB. AirBnB is a corporate lodging group that allows members to rent their homes (from a private room to an entire estate) tax-free through an online system to other AirBnB users looking for lodging in specific destinations. Currently, there are 90 rentals offered through AirBnB on the 15 unbridged Maine islands. Despite the loss in tax dollars created by innkeepers, and islanders that rent their properties through AirBnB, who avoid registering their rental facilities with the State, lodging sales tax laws do not appear to be strictly enforced on Maine islands.

State of Tourism

Tourists come to Maine’s islands for many reasons. Innkeepers reported that close to half of their guests are drawn by the allure of islandness; never having been to a Maine island before is a reason to make the journey in and of itself. Sometimes visitors are looking for an outdoor adventure, other times they are drawn to the old world island culture and traditional fishing communities on the islands that remain relatively untouched by modernity (Bernard, 2010). One innkeeper in our survey also noted, “nostalgia from previous visits brings tourists out to the islands, where there is an invitation from the past drawing one back again.” Birders come for the unique wildlife present in the fall, while artists flock to the picturesque landscape to paint, write and ponder (Curtis, 1995).

Despite their wide variety of motivations, tourists that journey to Maine’s islands play a profound role in the sustainability of island life. Tourists have both negative and positive environmental impacts. Through recreational activities like motor boating, which tourists often partake in to explore Maine’s islands, they expel pollutants such as carbon dioxide and chemicals released from boat paint into the marine environment (Austin, 2002). Islands, such as Monhegan, that receive high amounts of daytrippers during the summer, experience increased wear on walking trails (Land Use Planning Commission, 2010). Islands that receive their groundwater from aquifers also face freshwater shortages at times, due to the high number of summer tourists (Land Use Planning Commission, 2010). They also increase the demand for waste and sewage disposal, putting pressure on the islands’ waste systems (Austin, 2002). However, because tourists are drawn to the natural beauty of Maine’s islands there is motivation for islanders to conserve that beauty in order to keep drawing tourists back year after year.

More so than in the rest of the state, Maine’s unbridged islands are dependent on third quarter earnings from tourism. These islands experience significant population increases during the summer (Figure 3.2) because the third quarter’s start and end dates align with the summer tourist influx. In 2009, third quarter taxable sales (mostly coming from restaurants and lodging) accounted for 52% of all Maine islands’ taxable sales, whereas third quarter earnings throughout the rest of the state only accounted for 29%. These discrepancies suggest that Maine’s islands are particularly vulnerable to economic downturn in the event that something were to disrupt trends in tourism (The Island Institute, 2014). In our survey, an inn owner on Monhegan reflected that tourism has been increasing since the economic collapse in 2008. We found no additional evidence to suggest that this trend would not continue in the future.



Figure 3.2 These maps reflects the changes between winter/spring/fall/ populations and summer populations on the 15 unbridged Maine islands. Map A represents the islands in the Portland region. Map B shows Monhegan and Matinicus, two islands off the Midcoast between Boothbay Harbor and Port Clyde. Map C shows the remaining islands located in and to the east of Penobscot Bay. All island populations increase during the summer; ranging from 35% to as much as 525%. Population data was obtained from the Island Institute.

Not only do tourists impact Maine islands, but Maine islands impact tourists profoundly, especially through the ways in which they can foster a sense of place among visitors. As Philip Conkling (1999) penned,

“Islands can trigger powerful introspective reflections regarding our human relationship with the Earth. The mainland looks smaller; the strong spirits of birds seem larger. A few of these [Maine] islands are so simple and majestic that even the most callous of human natures is silenced within their sanctuaries where experience of the world is direct and elemental.”

Through their interactions with the natural environment, tourists develop recreational place attachment, a concept similar to sense of place that natural resource managers use to better understand recreational users as part of a landscape (Ednie, 2010). A 2006 study on recreational place attachment in Maine found that Maine’s coastal visitors were most attracted to the physical landscape, followed by local culture. Those that developed the highest recreational place attachment levels engaged in recreational opportunities while visiting under their own terms; without the assistance of commercial tourist groups (Ednie, 2010). The most prominent commercial tourist groups on the unbridged islands are the private ferries that run tourists out from the mainland, providing short histories and information about the communities along the way. Responses from survey participants reflected this Ednie’s finding, as kayaking, swimming, biking, hiking, and visiting the sand beaches independently or with family remain the favorite activities among their guests.

Because tourists foster the strongest connection to the islands when they deviate from the beaten path (Ednie, 2010) it does not appear that commercial tourist groups are actually not that valuable in forming their relationships between tourists and Maine islands. However, the amount of tourists that visit the islands as daytrippers is largely depending of the availability of commercial ferry services (Land Use Planning Commission, 2010). In short, islanders depend on ferry service to bring tourists out to the islands, but the commercial tourism aspects of these services do not appear to facilitate place attachment.

Additionally, innkeepers in our survey suggested that they had little interest in working with commercial tourist operations. When asked if they work with commercial groups, two innkeepers responded with an emphatic “No.” Innkeepers did suggest that they are interested in working with local conservation groups, however. Innkeepers are aware of the importance in keeping their natural environment beautiful, as that is what draws tourists back to these communities year after year.


Tourism brings positives (such as economic vitality) and negatives (such as pollution and overcrowding) to the islands during the summer. The summer tourist influx stresses the environment and island systems (Bernard, 2010; Ednie, 2010; Maine Sea Grant, 2006). Islanders should continue to be wary of their slowly but steadily growing tourist industry, implementing conservation programs perhaps, to make sure tourists don’t damage the natural beauty of the island, as that is what draws them there in the first place. Throughout history, islanders have succeeded in maintaining this balance (Bernard, 2010; Conkling, 1995).

Three out of our four survey responders indicated that having family on the island was an important reason for tourists to come to one of the communities. Therefore, it appears that keeping these islands as year-round communities is and will continue to be a primary factor for tourists continuing to visit these communities in the summer. One study indicated that in order to draw tourists that lack a family connection to their island, marketing materials that combine the physical landscape appeal and idyllic cultural appeal will be most successful at drawing new tourists to the islands (Ednie, 2010). Once tourists have arrived on the islands, islanders engaged in the tourist industry should work to protect a diversity of tourist experiences that facilitate high sense of place attachment in order to gain repeat tourists the following year (Ednie, 2010).

Due to the diversity in population size, acreage, and local governments, each island’s tourism management plan will have to be very specific to the island’s needs. Monhegan Island, a plantation managed by the Land Use Planning Commission, has been celebrated in the literature and media as a community that is taking a proactive and sustainable approach to managing island tourism (Bernard, 2010; Land Use Planning Commission, 2010; McCarthy, 2014). We use Monhegan Island as a case study for how an unbridged island can take an active role in supporting tourism, sustainability, and an enduring year-round population.

Case Study: Monhegan Island

Monhegan is the smallest of the 15 unbridged islands and is located approximately 10 miles off the coast of Maine (Bernard, 2010). Monhegan is one of two islands that we studied that is a plantation governed by the LUPC. The other islands are independent towns, or fall under the jurisdiction of a mainland city (The Island Institute, 2014). It is serviced by ferries out of Port Clyde and Boothbay Harbor, ME and sustains a year-round population of 69 people, a summer resident population of 250 people, and numerous day-trippers during the summer (The Island Institute, 2014). In our survey, an innkeeper on Monhegan indicated that most summer tourists come to the island to visit family, see an old fishing village, or celebrate occasions such as an anniversaries or honeymoons. Monhegan was formerly an artist colony and today still sees art tourists who come to the island to capture the picturesque landscape and greater natural beauty of Monhegan (Curtis, 1995). In the fall, the island sees another type of tourist: birders who flock to the island during October to capture rare bird sightings such as peregrine falcons and yellow-rumped warblers during the fall migration (Bernard, 2010; Lovitch, 2014).

Throughout the island’s history, Monheganers have lived in a way emblematic of Princen’s principle of sufficiency: which is centered around the idealized concept of “enoughness;” that limited consumption and resource use are part of a good life. (Bernard, 2010). Therefore, setting limits has been and continues to be a part of Monheganers’ culture.

Monhegan has several groups on the island working to increase environmental sustainability and to ensure that the dwindling year-round population does not become extinct. Monhegan Associates (MA) is a land trust that was formed in 1954 and has three primary goals: monitoring the environmental health of Monhegan’s wildlands, controlling invasive species, and building the community (Monhegan Associates, Inc., 2014). Because Monhegan is far out to sea and lacks access to fresh food from the mainland, one of MA’s projects was to donate land to an island farm to produce fresh food. Produce from this farm is now available at the island’s sole grocery store, and year-round islanders have been enthusiastic about this change (McCarthy, 2014). This is just one example of how an island non-profit can make an active difference in sustaining the land and communities that draw tourists to the islands year after year.

Another, much newer organization is the Monhegan Island Sustainable Community Association (MISCA), which was founded in 2002 and has the goals of purchasing existing residential and commercial property on the islands to make it available to year-round islanders for purchase at below market price (Bernard, 2010). MISCA was responsible for purchasing the property that now functions as the island’s one grocery store. MISCA members have also been responsible for the creation of new businesses that will draw tourists out to the island, including the new Monhegan Brewing Company. Together, MA and MISCA are working to protect the land, support the year-round population and develop innovative new business ventures that will support the tourist industry that the year-round population depends on.

Monhegan is an excellent example of how an island community can support the longstanding tourism industry. Monheganers have been able to develop new businesses while supporting the year-round population and preserving island land. If we extrapolate from Monhegan to the other island communities, it appears that there are relatively little changes that these communities must make when it comes to tourism, with the exception of sustainable entrepreneurship. So long as the year-round communities endure (which depends greatly on the lobster fishery) and the natural landscape is maintained (which is influenced by island conservation policies), tourists will continue to come to these communities, these last, water-bound frontiers.


Conservation on Maine islands is unique compared to the rest of the state due to the geographic isolation and distance from the mainland. Although islands comprise over 11% of Maine’s total area, they only contain a fraction of the conserved land throughout the state. It is important to assess conservation of the islands because they contribute significantly to Maine’s unique island habitats.

Laws and Institutions

Conservation on Maine islands is particularly important due to islanders’ economic dependence on natural resources as well as the ecological richness. Various federal, state, and local laws govern conservation throughout the state and its islands.

The Tax Treatment Extension Act (1980) is an example of a federal law that influences conservation in Maine (Appendix A). The law permanently authorizes income tax deductions for conservation contributions in historically important land areas. The Taxpayer Relief Act (1997) also provides tax deductions for owners for conservation easements (Appendix A).

State involvement is also pertinent for conservation on Maine islands. The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife works with conserved land on the islands and manages designated areas as outlined in the Maine constitution.

The Land for Maine’s Future (LMF) program evaluates the need for state conservation lands, and allocates money from the LMF Fund. The program also distributes money through the Public Access to Maine Waters Fund and the Maine Working Waterfront Access Protection Fund. Most recently, at the July 15, 2014 meeting, the LMF Board allocated $9.1 million of the bonds approved by voters to various projects, including coastal islands and conservation assets (LMF, 2014). LMF funds help to conserve more than 315,000 acres of forestland and over 1,200 miles of shorefront, as well as more than two-dozen commercial working waterfront sites including some on the islands (LMF, 2014).

An Act to Reform Land Use Planning in the Unorganized Territory (2012) created the Land Use Planning Commission (LUPC), which now manages the planning, zoning, and development in unorganized areas (Appendix B). LUPC is the sole authority governing Matinicus and Monhegan, two of the unbridged year-round island communities.

The Maine Conservation Easement Act of 1985 established the framework for all conservation easements throughout the state of Maine. It also defines conservation easements and holders, as well as any actions that call for judicial involvement (Appendix B). The Act was amended in 2012 to increase the transparency for the process of creating conservation easements in Maine. Under this law, the holder of the easements must monitor the conditions of the property more frequently (at least once every three years) and a conservation easement must include a statement of conservation purpose. Easements must also be registered through the Conservation Easement Registry (Appendix B).

The Tree Growth Tax Law (1971) and the Current-Use Tax Law (1969) give property tax deductions for land conservation management, which provides incentive to establish conservation easements (Appendix A). Maine legislature made significant changes to both laws in 2013, ultimately making it difficult for land trusts to have proper registration in Tree Growth, but do not use the land for commercial harvesting of trees (Maine Land Trust Network, 2014). Many land trusts however do not seek full property tax exemption for their preserves, and therefore are not concerned with Tree Growth or Open Space classification.

State of Conservation

In order to fully understand the state of conservation on Maine’s islands, we compared conservation lands on Maine’s islands to the rest of Maine and New England. Conservation lands of the islands include all federal, state, and conservation easement land (Table 3.3). Including each of these types of land, nearly 1,200 out of approximately 4,000 islands have conserved land, comprising 3.3% of the total land on the islands (Maine Office of GIS, 2014).

Table 3.3 Types of conserved land analyzed on Maine islands (Gorte et al., 2012).

Type of Conserved land Description
Federal land Includes lands managed by four separate agencies including the Department of the Interior, the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Fish and Wildlife Service
Conservation easementsLegal agreement between a landowner and a land trust or government agency that permanently limits uses of the land in order to protect its conservation values
State ParksIncludes land managed by state governments

The islands of Maine contribute to over 11% of Maine’s total land, covering 3,900 square miles (Figure 3.3). However, they only contain 2.5% of the total conserved land within the state, or 130 square miles of conserved land (Maine Office of GIS, 2014). Maine islands have very little conserved land compared to the rest of the state, as well as to the rest of New England (Figure 3.4). Though Maine as a state has the highest acreage of conserved land out of the six New England states, it is second to last in percentage of conserved land (State of Maine’s Environment, 2012).


Figure 3.3 A map displaying a majority of the conserved land parcels located on Maine’s Islands (Maine Office of GIS, 2014)


Figure 3.4 A comparison of the percentage of conserved land of all New England States. The percentage of conserved lands for Maine islands is shown within the total percentage for the State of Maine. (Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, 2014; Massachusetts GIS Data Catalog, 2014; Maine Office of GIS, 2014; New Hampshire Office of Energy and Planning, 2014; Rhode Island Geographic Information System, 2014; Vermont Center for Geographic Information System, 2014)

When focusing on the 15 unbridged islands, there is a total of 22.5 square miles of conserved land out of the total 90, or 24% (Figure 3.5). This land is situated within 13 of the island communities, leaving two without any conserved land. The 15 unbridged island communities have conservation levels ranging from no conserved land to over 50% conserved land (Figure 3.6) (Maine Office of GIS, 2014).


Figure 3.5 A map displaying the conserved land parcels located on Maine’s 15 unbridged island communities The map is separated into three sections for clarity purposes. Section A shows the islands in the Portland region, including Peaks Island, Great Diamond Island, Cliff Island, Long Island, and Chebeague. Section B shows the mid-coast island communities of Monhegan and Matinicus. Section C shows the northernmost island communities to the east of Penobscot Bay, including North Haven, Vinalhaven, Isle Au Haut, Islesboro, Swan’s Island, Frenchboro, Great Cranberry and Little Cranberry. (Maine Office of GIS, 2014)


Figure 3.6 A map displaying the percent of conserved land out of the total land on the 15 unbridged island communities. The map is separated into three sections for clarity purposes. Section A shows the islands in the Portland region, including Peaks Island, Great Diamond Island, Cliff Island, Long Island, and Chebeague. Section B shows the mid-coast island communities of Monhegan and Matinicus. Section C shows the northernmost island communities to the east of Penobscot Bay, including North Haven, Vinalhaven, Isle Au Haut, Islesboro, Swan’s Island, Frenchboro, Great Cranberry and Little Cranberry. (Maine Office of GIS, 2014)

These communities are managed individually by a variety of governing bodies, including independent town management systems, the LUPC, or the city of Portland. Much of the conserved land is located on islands with town management bodies (Table 3.4). Ten of the islands use this form of independent town managing systems, where there are localized groups of community members that run the logistics of the towns. Islands managed independently have federal, state, and conservation easement lands. These islands have a total of over 14 square miles of conserved land.

The remaining unbridged island communities are managed by either the LUPC or the City of Portland. LUPC, as a state entity, is the sole managing body on two unbridged island communities, which together compile just under one square mile of conserved land. The City of Portland manages the remaining three islands, two of which have no conserved land (Table 3.4). The City of Portland manages islands with only 0.06 square miles of conserved land.

Table 3.4 The 15 unbridged island communities characterized by total square mileage of conserved land, type of conserved land, and management type (Maine Office of GIS, 2014)

IslandType of GovernmentTotal Area Conserved (Square Miles)Area conserved based on type Type of Conserved land
Isle Au HautIndependent5.9Federal
VinalhavenIndependent4.754.31Conservation easement
SwansIndependent2.85Conservation easement
FrenchboroIndependent1.77Conservation easement
North HavenIndependent0.9Conservation easement
MatinicusLUPC0.65Conservation easement
IslesboroIndependent0.440.255Conservation easement
Great CranberryIndependent0.250.228Conservation easement
Long IslandIndependent0.14State
Chebeague Independent 0.12Conservation easement
Peaks City of Portland0.06Conservation easement
MonheganLUPC0.008Conservation easement
Great Diamond City of Portland0None
CliffCity of Portland0None

Conservation easement land is the most prominent type of conserved land on the 15 unbridged islands, comprising over eight square miles of conserved land (Maine Office of GIS, 2014). A conservation easement gives power to a land conservation organization or to the government to restrict land usage for the purposes of conservation. Easements are also the dominant type of conserved land on Maine islands as a whole, as well as the entire state. Currently, eight of the 15 unbridged island communities have conservation easements. Seven different land trusts work on the unbridged communities alone.


The 4,000 islands of Maine vary in size, terrain, distance from the mainland, year-round populations, summer populations, as well as conserved land. Focusing on the 15 unbridged islands alone allowed us to determine how the presence of people affects remote islands, as well as what types of conserved land are successful within the islands. Governing bodies on the unbridged island communities are the management of all island activity. However, separate management bodies, including land trusts or federal governments, manage conservation land located within the islands.

Land trusts manage conservation easements, the dominant type of conserved land on Maine’s islands. Different land trusts are involved in the management of the conservation easements, all of which are a part of the Maine Land Trust Network. The land trusts currently working on the unbridged island communities include Maine Coast Heritage Trust, Vinalhaven Land Trust, North Haven Conservation Partners, Islesboro Islands Trust, Isle au Haut Conservation Land Trust, Chebeague and Cumberland Land Trust, Inc., Peaks Island Land Preserve, and Monhegan Associates (Maine Land Trust Network, 2014). These land trusts together have successfully created and managed over 13 square miles of easement land on the 15 unbridged island communities alone. Conservation easements are located on lands with all types of town managing systems, but are able to continue to expand their growing network of easements on Maine’s islands because of the support of LMF funds. Land trusts are the most successful management for conserved land on all of Maine’s islands and are continually expanding their lands on all types of islands with all types of management systems.

Case Study: Monhegan Island

Three-quarters of Monhegan is protected by a conservation easement (Island Institute, 2014). Monhegan Associates, a land conservation organization within the Maine Land Trust Network, manages the easement in order to preserve “the wild land of Monhegan in its natural ecological state consistent with its use by the public” (Maine Land Trust Network, 2014). Monhegan Associates was one of the first land trusts on the East Coast, and was originally created by donated lands in return for the agreement to preserve them (Monhegan Associates, 2014). Monhegan Associates currently manages 0.008 square miles of easement land out of the total 4.5 square miles on the island (Monhegan Associates, 2014).

With 69 year-round residents, a plantation town government currently manages the island, which is within the LUPC. However, the LUPC is not the managing body of the conservation easement. Monhegan Associates, a land trust organization separate from the community government, has managed the easement since it’s creation in 1954 (Monhegan Associates, 2014). Management of conserved land that is separate from the town management has been successful for the easement within the community of Monhegan, as well as other islands with easements such as Matinicus, another unbridged island community managed by the LUPC.

The U.S. National Park Service manages the federal land located on the islands. The federal land is the second most common type of conserved land located on Maine islands as a whole, however, it is mostly only located on Isle au Haut. The conserved federal land on Isle au Haut is included in Acadia National Park. This is a special case on the islands, and is not a common form of conserved land on all of Maine’s islands. If we disregard Isle au Haut, over 90% of the conserved land on Maine’s unbridged island communities is made up of conservation easements (Maine Office of GIS).

Non-profit organizations, such as the Maine Island Trail Association (MITA), have also had positive involvement for the conservation of Maine islands. By creating America’s first water trail, MITA promotes visitation and stewardship of Maine’s coast (Maine Island Trail Association, 2014). The trail spans over 200 islands and has built a community of stewardship and care for the islands that has left islands with visiting members in better ecological shape than those left completely alone. MITA is another example of a local organization working to protect islands outside of town management bodies.

The form of management on the islands is crucial for managing all aspects of islands of Maine; however, in terms of conservation, land trust management, such as Monhegan Associates, has been more beneficial than federal or state lands on the islands. The conservation on Maine’s islands is most successful when land trusts are working to create conservation easements on the islands, and organizations other than the managing system on the particular island, such as MITA, are involved. Differing from town management bodies that are focused on all aspects of Maine islands, land trusts and non-profits promote the creation of new conservation easement and successfully management existing lands because they are solely focused on conservation.

Lobster Industry

Maine lobster is an iconic product with which the islands have strong historical and economic ties. Since the first lobster pounds appeared in tidal creeks on Vinalhaven in 1875, lobstering has been integral part of the island economies. With high concentrations of lobster licenses being issued to residents of the unbridged islands, it is imperative that island lobstering communities petition for localized management of their lobster resources.

Laws and Institutions

Federal living marine resources (LMR) in Federal waters are managed by a number of federal laws and fishery management councils that are overseen by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The fishery management councils include stakeholders such as commercial and recreational fishermen, marine scientists, and state and federal fisheries managers. The members of these councils work together to balance the commerce and conservation of LMR in their respective geographic planning areas. Their powers include the ability to (1) limit fishing effort, (2) adjust the start and end dates of fishing seasons, (3) regulate fishing gear restrictions, (4) determine the number of fishermen permitted to harvest certain species, and (5) determine the total catch limits for different fish species. These management councils utilize their members’ respective backgrounds in science, policy, and business to continually assess and update the federal laws that govern LMR management (NMFS, 2014).

The federal law that governs fishery sustainability is the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation Act. The Act establishes a fishing conservation zone out to 200 nautical miles from shore; it was enacted to promote the optimal exploitation of LMR (MAFMC, 2014). This zone is intended to prevent overfishing, phase out foreign fishing, and allow overfished stocks to recover. The fishing conservation zone established through the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation Act coincides geographically with the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which grants exclusive property rights over a country’s marine waters within 200 nautical miles of that country’s coastline, as established by the United Nations Conventions on the Law of the Sea. The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation Act has been amended several times since it was enacted in 1976 to promote the sustainability of various depleted fisheries. The Act was most recently amended in 2006.

The Federal Sustainable Fisheries Act, passed in 1996, declared lobsters over-fished and mandated a rebuilding of the fishery throughout the state (DMR, 2011). In 1997, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) implemented an interstate conservation plan for rebuilding the fisheries stock. The ASMFC then passed its recommendations on to the State of Maine for implementation and enforcement through the Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR). The Maine Legislature and DMR took the recommendations from the ASMFC and began to limit entry by zone into the lobster fishery. Part of the conservation plan of ASMFC was restoring egg production in the lobster stock by prohibiting the possession and harvesting of “berried” lobsters, which are female lobsters carrying eggs (ASMFC, 2014). Regulations also dictate that if female egg-bearing lobsters are brought up in a trap, fishermen must place a “V” shaped notch on their tails and place them back into the water. Fishermen are then prohibited from harvesting or being in possession of these V-notched lobsters. Other requirements that regulate the fishery include biodegradable panels on traps, permitting and tagging for traps, escape vents on traps for undersized lobsters, and a maximum per-vessel allowance of 800 traps (DMR, 2011).

State of Lobster Industry

The lobster industry is a vibrant part of Maine’s economy and its cultural heritage. Live landings in 2013 accounted for over $300 million of the state’s gross domestic product (Appendix C). Total annual live landings have increased from around 20 million pounds in the early 1980s to over 120 million pounds in recent years (Figure 3.7). The residents of Maine’s islands are partially dependent on lobstering, as illustrated by the concentrations of licenses issued to members of these communities. In 2009, an estimated 15% of islanders held lobster licenses. In the same year, 95% of all commercial fishing licenses and 9% of lobster licenses were issued to residents of island communities, despite islanders making up less than 1% of the state’s total population. Of all of the commercial fishing licenses issued to island residents, 78% were for lobster fishing compared to 47% for the state of Maine as a whole (Island Institute, 2009), which shows that there is a relatively higher proportion of lobster permits compared to other commercial fishing licenses within the island communities compared to the rest of Maine.


Figure 3.7 Historical data for live lobster landings by weight in the state of Maine from 1984 to 2013 (Maine Department of Marine Resources)

The price of fuel and bait, two of the most costly inputs to lobster fishing, have risen steadily as the per pound price of lobster has decreased slightly since 1997. We use 1997 as a base year because that was when the DMR began to implement its conservation plan for the lobster fishery in Maine. Since 1997 the national average diesel fuel price increased 220% from $1.19 to $3.81 in 2014 (EIA, 2014). During this same time period, the price per pound for live landings decreased slightly from $2.94 to $2.89. It is important to note that the average price per pound of lobster had increased and decreased during this time period, peaking at $4.39 in 2007 (DMR, 2014). Since 1980, the price for a drum of bait has also climbed from $35 to around $180 in recent years (Spector, 2013), which is more than 400% increase. The trend of rising input costs and a relatively stagnant price per pound of lobster could threaten the livelihoods of many members of the fishery. There are serious impacts from the loss of profitability for lobstermen within the island communities as their ability to change occupations is severely limited by the small size and geographic isolation of many of the unbridged islands.


Rising input costs and a stagnant price per pound for live landings has created pressures to increase fishing efforts within the fishery. This pressure to fish more traps and more days out of the year means that the fishery must be regulated closely in order to prevent unsustainable rates of harvest. It was not until the ASFMC and the Maine DMR began to implement programs to protect the sustainability of lobster resources that lobster became a tightly managed excludable resource.

One of the ASFMC’s recommendations to the Maine DMR was to implement a limited entry and apprenticeship program. The Maine Lobster Limited Entry and Apprentice Program established six limited entry zones along the coast of Maine in 1997. The limited entry zones are defined by specific geographical boundaries and the amount of fishing effort and live landings that occur within each zone varies (Table 3.5). These zones limit the number of new entrants into the fishery by setting up a waitlist for obtaining licenses to fish for lobster in that zone (DMR, 2012). Lobstermen place themselves on the waitlist by applying for a lobster license within a specific zone. To be eligible for a license, an applicant must complete the mandatory apprentice program.

Table 3.5 Weight and value of live lobster landings for each of Maine’s lobster management zones in 2013 (Maine Department of Marine Resources, 2014)


The intensive apprentice program involves working with a commercially licensed lobster harvester for a minimum of 24 months, documenting at least 1000 hours and 200 fishing days (DMR, 2011). An applicant must also apprentice within the zone they wish to enter. The number of licenses awarded to new entrants for each limited entry zone is based on an exit-ratio. These exit-ratios, which the DMR calculates in February of each year, range from three to five license holders retiring for every one new entrant (DMR, 2012).

Management of the Maine islands’ lobster fisheries as excludable resources belonging to the island communities is a relatively recent development. In 2009, the DMR implemented a new law to give island communities the legal ability to protect the long-term viability of their lobster fisheries. The Maine Lobster Island Limited Entry Program allows year-island communities to petition the Commissioner of the DMR to establish limited entry programs appropriate to island lobster fisheries. The Island Limited Entry Program gives islands the ability to establish their own limited entry zones with specific allowances of licenses that are appropriate to the economic needs of their community and the sustainability of their lobster resource. To date, several islands have successfully petitioned the DMR to set up Island Limited Entry Zones, including the Cranberry Islands, Cliff Island, Chebeague Island, and Monhegan (Waterman, 2012).

The final issue affecting Maine’s islands’ lobster industries is the potential future impacts from climate change and warming in the Gulf of Maine. Over the last forty years, live landings as a percent of the state’s total annual landings have decreased in southern coastal counties (Table 3.6). We see the opposite effect for northern coastal counties as the relative share of the state’s total landings has increased significantly within this area (Figure 3.8). Warming in the Gulf of Maine could drive lobster populations and live landings into more northern waters outside of Penobscot Bay, where there is a high concentration of island lobstering communities.

Table 3.6 Historical change in live lobster landings in pounds as a proportion of annual state totals (Maine Department of Marine Resources)

CountyAverage Percent of Annual State Landings (1970-79) Average Percent of Annual State Landings (2000-09)Change in Average Percent of Annual State Landings (1970-2009)


Figure 3.8 Map displaying historical change in live lobster landings in pounds as a proportion of annual state totals (Maine Department of Marine Resources)


Islands currently face unique challenges in meeting their energy and electricity needs due to their geographic isolation. This results in higher electricity prices compared to the rest of the state. Local alternative energy production would benefit the islands overall.

Laws and Institutions

Several state and federal laws pertain to the discussions of alternative energy options for Maine’s unbridged islands. Tidal and wind power fall under the jurisdiction of both onshore and offshore regulations. These regulations provide guidelines for establishing renewable energy projects with minimal environmental impacts and in doing so present several obstacles to the development of certain projects.

Overall, the Maine government is relatively supportive of tidal power and other alternative energy projects as reflected in the following laws. The Act to Facilitate Testing and Demonstration of Renewable Ocean Energy Technology and the Act to Implement the Recommendations of the Governor’s Ocean Energy Task Force, established in 2009 and 2010 respectively. These laws help to streamline the process of establishing tidal power projects and are indicative of a larger effort by the state to be a leader in the alternative energy movement (appendix B).

The onshore and offshore development of wind power is also a potential method for reducing electricity costs for the people of Maine. This can be especially difficult because of the many laws regarding the conservation of coastal areas on Maine’s islands. The Maine Working Water Access Permit Program (MWAPP) allows for these projects to move forward through the issuance of permits while the Maine Mandatory Shoreline Zoning Law provides obstacles to project development in shoreline areas (Appendix B). This law serves to prevent development from hindering the widespread recreational fishing that occurs on Maine’s coasts.

The Maine Current Use Taxation for Working Waterfronts also creates setbacks for establishing wind power on a large scale on Maine’s islands (Appendix B). While the previously mentioned MWAPP could provide access to more coastal areas for alternative energy project development, the Current Use Taxation for Working Waterfronts discourages large-scale development of working waterfronts.

State of Energy

The seclusion from the mainland, the sense of community within the islands, and the fantastic views are all unique aspects of island life that Maine’s island communities embody. However, the staggering prices that islanders pay for their electricity on a yearly basis are not included in those perks. The detachment from the mainland and the absence of bridges make powering the islands more difficult. While many use the submarine cable or diesel tank method of receiving power from the mainland, these methods have proven costly for some and the need for a new source of energy has become apparent.


Figure 3.9 Average energy prices for Maine’s 15 unbridged island communities.

Maine islanders’ electricity rates deviate from Maine and national averages. According to the Island Institute’s Island Indicators 2010-2011 publication, the national average currently sits at 11 cents per kilowatt-hour (The Island Institute, 2012). The New England average, sitting at 18 cents, is bested slightly by the Maine mainland average of 16 cents. While the islands of Casco Bay, Isleboro, and the Cranberry Isles all experience electricity costs within that range, the other islands see prices ranging anywhere from just below 30 cents to the high price of 70 cents per kilowatt-hour (The Island Institute, 2012). Currently, the islands get their energy in a variety of ways. Most islands are connected to the mainland by a submarine cable, while two islands import mainland fuel, and two others have recently made a partial move to alternative energy. The data in Figure 3.9, having been collected before the wind farm could be established, does not reflect the change in cost that occurred on the island due to the project itself (Island Institute 2012). The difficulties in powering unbridged islands are evidenced by the high prices year-round islanders must pay, but there are potential solutions that can solve this issue; alternative energy. The use of alternative energy in the United States has yet to approach its capacity. Maine as a whole, and specifically its islands have a unique opportunity to spearhead community-based alternative energy projects and bring forth real, sustainable solutions to one of their largest local problems. The current widespread use of both diesel transportation and expensive to maintain submarine cables has put the islands in a position where a change must be made.

The potential for alternative energy as a means to power Maine’s islands is certainly there, as both wind power and tidal power could act as long-term solutions (Firestone 2004). There are even examples of communities being proactive in making an effort to improve their situation as far as electricity payment is concerned. The wind farm project on Vinalhaven for example, demonstrates a local, island-based initiative that allows islanders to shed their dependence on energy from the mainland. While this plan has certainly not been exclusively met with praise, it has helped contribute to lower energy costs on the island, despite complaints about the noise of wind turbines as a nuisance (Nissenbaum, 2011). The possibility of these projects becoming more prominent is an exciting one for the islands, as it could end up severely cutting the electricity costs that islanders must pay.


Providing the islands of Maine with energy has always been an issue, as evidenced by the high costs of electricity that have historically plagued the islands. With the exception of the Casco Bay islands and others that are closer to the shore, the Maine islands experiences energy costs that greatly exceed both state and national averages. These average costs climb as high as 70 cents per kilowatt on Monhegan Island in 2009 (Island Institute, 2012).

Table 3.7 Electricity sources for Maine’s unbridged islands (Town of Cranberry Isles Energy Study, Island Indicators 2010-2011, Fox Islands Electric Cooperative)

IslandElectricity Source
ChebeagueUse submarine cables from the mainland
CliffUse submarine cables from the mainland
FrenchboroUse submarine cables from the mainland
Great CranberryUse submarine cables from the mainland
Great DiamondUse submarine cables from the mainland
Isle Au HautUse submarine cables from the mainland
IsleboroUse submarine cables from the mainland
Little CranberryUse submarine cables from the mainland
Long IslandUse submarine cables from the mainland
MatinicusRely on importing diesel fuel
MonheganRely on importing diesel fuel
North HavenFox Islands wind turbines have eliminated inconsistent submarine cables
PeaksUse submarine cables from the mainland
SwansUse submarine cables from the mainland

The geographic isolation that separates the islands from the mainland presents the largest challenge to maintaining traditional energy production methods. This isolation varies on an island-to-island basis. Some islands could realistically maintain a submarine cable while maintaining low electricity costs. However, others need to form their own self-engineered energy source, such as a diesel tank on shore that relies on oil imports from the mainland (Cramer, 2008).

In order to improve the state of the islands, it is necessary to decrease their dependence on mainland fuel sources while lowering the costs of energy to create sustainable and environmentally responsible projects. The two most plausible solutions for the islands would almost certainly be wind power (both on land and offshore) or tidal power (Ocean Renewable Power Company, 2013; Island Institute, 2013). One such movement was the Fox Islands Wind Project, which served the unbridged islands of Vinalhaven and North Haven.

Case Study: Fox Islands Wind Farm

The Fox Islands Wind Project broke ground in 2009, becoming the largest community-based wind energy endeavor on all of the East Coast (Borst 2010). For the majority of the twentieth century, the island of Vinalhaven was reliant on oil imports from the mainland. This was changed significantly in the late seventies when the conversion was made to a ten-mile long submarine cable that connected to the mainland in Rockport (Gallant 1983). The support for community-based wind projects was miniscule as early as the mid 2000s, but the spike in natural gas costs in 2005 led to increased interest in the idea (Curtis 2009). While this was an improvement over the previous energy regime, the people of Vinalhaven and North Haven still continued to experience electric rates that soar over the national averages.

The overall feedback so far from the Fox Islands Wind Project paints a larger picture of the pros and cons of wind as a sustainable source of energy. While the prospect of gaining energy independence from the mainland is extremely desirable, doing it in an environmentally safe manner would be most ideal. The electricity prices on Vinalhaven and North Haven have fallen from 29 cents per kilowatt hour to anywhere between 5 and 6 cents s of 2010 and around 12 cents as recently as 2013 (Goldfine 2011,Fox Island Wind Neighbors 2014). A serious barrier to the expansion of wind energy is the cultural impact and how it would alter the look of the island’s treasured landscapes. This, along with growing complaints about noise issues that come with the wind turbines, make the prospect of large-scale installment of local wind power projects slim. In fact, the many disturbed residents have gone as far as to publish an online blog criticizing the prices that were promised and complaining about their loss in quality of life (Fox Islands Wind Neighbors).  However, should island communities and their members be able to get over the hump in this respect, progress could be made in all directions.

This goes additionally for tidal power as well. One advantage that tidal power has in this instance is that the mechanism used to harness the energy is not visible, rather deep underwater (Garrett & Cummins 2005). This advantage goes for solar power as well. Should there be a growth in the number of alternative energy projects on Maine’s islands, as is the recommendation based on what we have discovered in our research, the islanders could be looking at unfamiliar numbers on their future electric bills. This is assured so long as community engagement and the proper government funding are available to start up these projects and begin saving money for the people of Maine’s islands. Focusing on community engagement and education concerning the unique energy needs of the islands are especially important, as government funding and alternative energy can only do so much if members of the community to not support new means of energy production.


A number of stakeholders and policies have affected tourism, conservation, lobster fishery management, and energy production and consumption on Maine’s islands. In the coming years, the complex relationship between the social, economic, and environmental factors will dictate the state of these issues on the islands of Maine. We suggest three possible scenarios for the future of the state of the Maine islands that account for changes in national economic trends and the state’s political climate.

Status Quo

The lobster fishery management continues to be dictated by reactionary policies. Island communities’ implement limited entry zones as they continue to assess and protect the sustainability of their lobster resources. Large conservation organizations such as Maine Coast Heritage Trust continue to purchase island property and increase the amount of conserved land on islands. Conservation easements continue to be the most prominent type of conserved land, and land trusts continue to manage land successfully. Tourism increases at a slow but steady rate. Third quarter revenue largely from tourism continues to be a huge factor in annual income earnings on the islands. The prices for electricity remain well above national averages, pushing islanders to begin incorporating alternative energy projects on their islands.

National Economic Downturn

A national economic downturn or a prolonged recession has several negative consequences on Maine’s islands. Islanders would face increased unemployment as the tourist industry dwindles and there is less opportunity to sell luxury goods such as lobster to the mainland. Some families stop living on the island year-round making tourists have less motivation to come back to the islands to see their families. Any community support for alternative energy projects dies as islanders tighten their investments as they focus on meeting their basic household needs. Conservation groups receive fewer donations for the same reasons. However, there are existing funds from Land for Maine’s Future that will continue to support existing conservation land. Already high electricity prices would become a relatively higher expenditure of falling total household incomes. Interestingly, a buyer’s market emerges in real estate, presenting an opportunity for outside developers to buy undeveloped waterfront land, preventing conservation organizations (who can’t afford to outbid the outside developers) from making those purchases.

Progressive Policies Sweep the Maine Legislature

Larger amounts and portions of tax revenues are used for conservation initiatives, increasing the amounts of conserved land on Maine’s islands. Higher property taxes motivate islanders to enter conservation easements in order to decrease their property tax rates due to the Tree Growth Tax Law (1971). Tourism continues to thrive. Lobster fishery management practices benefit from higher amounts of funding due to progressive policies. This leads to more quantitative assessments of lobster resources and more guided and efficient decision-making within the management of the fishery. Progressive policies create financial incentives for alternative energy projects on the islands that increase their energy independency from the mainland. However, island communities are divided in their beliefs on alternative energy sources, and though some islanders buy into the idea of alternative energy, others protest the unsightly appearance of alternative projects, causing an increase in controversy within island communities over energy sources.

Conclusions and Recommendations

The issues Maine’s islands experience are as diverse as the islands themselves. We find that though we can predict future scenarios for tourism, conservation, the lobster industry, and energy, we provide recommendations specific to each sub-topic in order to adequately address each issue.


If we have learned one thing throughout this project, it is that there is a dearth of information regarding tourism on Maine islands. Although the Island Institute has useful quantitative data on energy, education, housing, and other aspects of community life for the 15 unbridged islands, these communities are only a small representation of all the island life in Maine. There is a gap in the literature when it comes to discussing tourism on the year-round unbridged islands in relation to the year-round bridged islands of Maine, and the islands that do not support human populations. It was beyond the scope of our analysis and available resources to bridge this gap, but to fully understand the role of Maine islands in the state of Maine, an analysis of the differences among these islands is warranted. Such an analysis of the complex interplay between year-round Mainers, tourists, and the natural environment on all of these islands would be enable policymakers to recommend accurate policies. If we think of Maine island tourism like a health condition; before we can prescribe the cure there must be research that enables one to properly diagnose the problem (if one exists). That all-encompassing research simply does not exist in this case. Our first and foremost recommendation is that there needs to be more data that links all types of islands in Maine together.

Based on the literature that we were able to review and our survey responses, we offer the following recommendations specific to island tourism on the 15 unbridged islands. We have found that their isolated existence and natural beauty is what brings many tourists out to these small communities off the coast in the first place. Although tourism creates some negative environmental consequences like increased pollution; it has not disturbed the environment in a significantly negative manner. Additionally, tourism fosters a sense of place and a connection to the land, which can in turn create a heightened sense of environmental ethics. Therefore, tourism has mostly positive impacts for these communities and the tourists who visit them; we recommend that business as usual in regards to tourism on the islands should continue.

Specifically, small, locally-owned inns and private room rentals should remain the primary type of lodging and tourists should continue to venture off the beaten path with their family members. It is through this tradition of island tourism that the greatest sense of place is established with the least environmental impact. Until there is more information on tourism in the context of Maine islands, we find that tourism on the 15 unbridged Maine islands is a well-oiled machine that is not in need of a major overhaul. So long as they maintain their traditional authenticity, pristine environments, and quaint yet innovative business ventures, tourists will continue to flock these islands and connect with the island environments.

In terms of changes that could occur of the islands, we recommend that reassess it’s taxation policies in regards to corporate lodging groups such as AirBnB. It’s possible that small, autonomous inns will forfeit their status as such in the future and opt to submit their properties to corporate lodging groups like AirBnB. This would positively impact island innkeepers as well as tourists. It would reduce innkeepers’ tax burden or potential tax evasion suits while still giving them the opportunity to turn a profit. Tourists would gain a more authentic experience staying in community members’ homes. They would also be access the shoreline as guests of private waterfront property for the duration of their stay; reducing shoreline access rights conflicts.

There are currently 90 rentals offered through AirBnB on the 15 unbridged Maine Islands. So far, the state has not engaged in due diligence for collecting tax through AirBnB. When lodging services, such as the B and B from our survey and AirBnB,  find loopholes to avoid paying 8% tax on their earnings the state loses money. For example, if all of the lodging facilities available on the 15 unbridged Maine islands through AirBnB were rented for just one week during the summer, the state would lose close to $9,000 sales tax because these facilities are not registered with the state. Yet; because AirBnB and similar models of “rent your room websites” benefit both islanders and tourists, it could be beneficial for the state to address its tax policies on corporate entities such as AirBnB. They could avoid losing tax dollars at the same time that they support the islanders and the tourists.


With only 2.5% of the Maine’s total conserved land, the amount of conserved land on the islands needs to increase in order to improve the status of conservation on Maine islands as well as throughout Maine. Supporting existing conservation lands with localized management and creating new easement lands will overall increase the amount of successful conserved land on islands.

The recent amendments to the Maine Conservation Easement Act create a framework for conservation easements that requires more frequent monitoring of conservation lands, while also increasing the required transparency for easements (Appendix A). With this law and the recent allocation of LMF bonds to coastal islands and conservation assets, local enforcement involving land trusts and non-profits is key in improving the state of conservation for Maine islands.

Local land trusts and non-profits have had the largest success in conserving Maine islands. Maine Land Trust Network organizations, particularly the Maine Coast Heritage Trust (MCHT), already positively influences Maine islands due to their contribution to conserved land through easements. With the combination of this already growing network of land trusts and increased monetary support from LMF, the creation of new easements is plausible. An increase in abundance of conservation easements created by MCHT as well as other local land trusts will benefit the islands.

Maine Island Trail Association (MITA) draws tourists to appreciate the natural beauty of Maine’s islands. By increasing stewardship for tourists, MITA helps expand the growing system of people supporting conservation of Maine’s islands. Additionally, innkeepers on Maine islands expressed through surveys that they want to have increased involvement with conservation organizations going into the future. The link between conservation and tourism can be enhanced through the collaboration of conservation organizations such as MCHT as well as MITA and innkeepers on islands.

Land trusts and non-profits are necessary to increase the amount of conserved land as well as improve management of existing conserved land. Creating a stronger connection between conservation and tourism will increase the community support for conserved land because of increased appreciation of the natural beauty of Maine islands. Community support within the islands as well as throughout the state is necessary for conservation on Maine islands because voters are needed to approve LMF bonds for conservation. The collaboration of all stakeholders is necessary to continue to support conservation o Maine islands.

Lobster Industry

Lobstering on Maine’s islands is an important part of the culture and history of these unbridged communities. Harvesting lobster is also a large source of income for many islanders. With high concentrations of lobster licenses being issued to island residents, it is clear that any policies that regulate the industry would have a large effect on livelihoods and overall incomes within these island communities. As many of these geographically isolated islands support only small populations, occupational changes in response to tighter restrictions on the fishery could be very difficult or impossible. As the groundfishing industry is collapsing in Maine, switching to other forms of fishing in response to lobster harvesting policy changes is becoming more difficult despite the large overlap in the necessary skills and equipment.

State regulations that limit the amount of alloted licenses and traps within limited entry zone, have put pressure on commercially-licensed lobstermen to increase fishing efforts to overcome increasing input costs in the form of rising prices for diesel fuel and bait. Maine’s apprentice program for lobster license applicants also presents issues within the island lobstering communities as the mandatory two-year program presents large barriers to entry for new commercially-licensed harvesters. Unbridged island lobstering communities would improve the overall status of the lobster industry by petitioning to Maine DMR for the adoption of Island Limited Entry Zones. By establishing limited entry zones, lobstering communities can establish license allotments and trap limits that allow them to balance their economic needs and conservation goals.


The best case going forward for these islands certainly involves a change from the current methods of energy attainment. The long, expensive submarine cables and the shipping of mainland diesel fuel to the islands will not sustain in the long-term. While the change to alternative energy on a wide scale certainly has its barriers, the Fox Islands Wind project has shown that these things can work to not only lower electricity costs, but to further eliminate environmental impacts and greenhouse gas emissions. While there are negatives that come with the territory of wind power, the potential change in energy prices far outweighs the occasional noise or vibration complaint. Using the community aspect of the Fox Islands project as a base, other island communities could potentially see a widespread reduction in electricity prices. The elimination of noise and vibration problems could also be remedied by taking the turbines offshore or using tidal power instead. However, the potential environmental, social, and economic effects of these types of alternative energy must be considered.

One possible solution would be providing incentives for islands to pursue alternative energy projects. Alternative energy may be difficult to encourage due to cultural barriers but increasing education and awareness of the islands’ energy plight could encourage growth in that area. Understanding the challenges they face when it comes to energy is important, but understanding potential solutions, such as alternative energy, could create a paradigm shift on Maine’s unbridged islands. However, community support and education can only go so far without the help of both state and federal government. Renewal of the Federal Production Tax Credit for wind energy would be a start in the right direction. Giving electricity providers a financial incentive (a certain amount paid back per kilowatt hour of wind produced) to use wind power will make the practice more attractive and cost-effective on a large scale (American Wind Energy Association 2014). This would be further aided by more tax credits for other forms of alternative energy, such as solar and tidal power. If the government can fiscally support these projects, Maine’s islands can finally begin a slow movement to lower prices while also contributing to the larger environmental movement. This could potentially include a large scale offshore wind farm in the Gulf of Maine (Acoustic Ecology Institute 2013). This would be especially advantageous for the islands as they would be the communities within the closest proximity to the project.

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