The woods near Alder Stream in Orneville Township, Maine. Credit: Erin Rhoda / BDN

A note from Erin Rhoda, editor of the Bangor Daily News’ Maine Focus team:

Growing up on a small farm in Maine, I was responsible for breaking ice out of the chickens’ water buckets every winter morning before school. When it wasn’t freezing, and I needed to think, I sat on the one rock overlooking our little man-made pond where the sheep drank their water.

In our woods, where my father chopped down trees for all our firewood, I developed a strong sense of direction, purposely getting lost by myself and then finding my way home. I poured my soul into an essay about these woods in fifth grade, describing the peace I found there. My teacher read it aloud to the class, her eyes shining.

It was my connection to the place I called home that helped me define my path as a writer. My father, a farmer, and my mother, a wilderness adventurer, only helped deepen my appreciation for the elements around me.

Yet for a long time the Bangor Daily News didn’t have a reporter focused solely on the environment. Other reporters touched on topics relating to water, air, woods, climate, fishing, farming and more. But it wasn’t a reporter’s sole specialty.

Mehr Sher writes about the Maine environment for the Bangor Daily News. She is a Report for America corps member. Additional support for her reporting is provided by the Unity Foundation and donations by BDN readers. (Credit: Linda O’Kresik / BDN)

Maine needs a reporter dedicated to covering people’s connections to the earth. That’s why we turned to Report for America, which helps place talented journalists in newsrooms around the country. As a Report for America corps member, Mehr Sher began working for the BDN as our environment reporter in August. Her first year at the BDN is supported by Report for America and our founding local sponsor, the Unity Foundation.

Report for America asks that we raise money from the community for the position long term to make sure there is buy-in from the public we serve.

And there is so much support. Over the past three weeks, our audience team exceeded its goals by raising almost $19,000 from more than 190 readers. It means we can sustain the position into 2023. That deserves an acknowledgement. As the editor overseeing this position, thank you.

In addition to the position, the funds will go toward other costs associated with journalism, such as document requests and mileage for traveling to report stories.

On top of sending donations, readers told us how much they care about this beat.

“The state needs it. Your readers need it,” said one.

Already Mehr has gone boating with oyster farmers in South Bristol to learn about their business and how they are protecting the waters that sustain their livelihoods. She sat down with a man in Pittsfield to understand his concerns about not being able to find out whether his bottled water contained toxic PFAS chemicals — because water bottlers aren’t required to test for them.

She walked through a blueberry barren in Appleton with a farm manager to report on the expensive predicament facing blueberry growers whose fields are not getting sufficient water. And she distilled science and data to explain what this summer’s drought has meant for people in Maine.

This is a unique and important position, in a state that is often defined by its setting — its coastline, its forests. What Mehr and I write is shaped by what we learn from people across the state. This beat really belongs to you.

So we also want input from you. What environment-related questions do you want us to answer? What changes in your community warrant coverage? We also love to just hear how Maine’s place has shaped you. Please feel welcome to write to Mehr at msher@bangordailynews.com and to me at erhoda@bangordailynews.com.

Thank you for showing so much support for this valuable work.

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Erin Rhoda

Erin Rhoda is the editor of Maine Focus, a team that conducts journalism investigations and projects at the Bangor Daily News. She also writes for the newspaper, often centering her work on domestic and...