State of the Rockies
Colorado College’s State of the Rockies Project encourages students to explore critical environmental and natural resource challenges facing the Rocky Mountain West. Through faculty led research and out-of-classroom experiences, students gain an appreciation of the region’s physical attributes and the impact of human land use activities while employing an interdisciplinary approach to finding balance between human activity and our environment.
Rockies 2019-2020 Project
Urbanization and Nature on the Front Range
Colorado's population is one of the fastest growing in the United States. Though many people are drawn here for the natural beauty and outdoor recreational opportunities offered in the state, rapid growth is putting pressure on these same resources. Climate change is further straining the state’s environment, and drought, floods, and forest fires threaten many of Colorado’s communities. Our current research explores the relationships among urbanization, nature, and climate change in Colorado.
One area of research we are undertaking looks at local and statewide initiatives to reduce carbon emissions through changing electricity production and transportation infrastructure. Research fellows are examining green transportation initiatives, particularly efforts to increasing electric vehicles across the state and local policies to enhance cycling infrastructure, both of which can improve public health and reduce the environmental impact of personal mobility. We are also examining efforts to reduce the cost and environmental impact of local energy production. As electricity production and transportation are major sources of greenhouse gas emissions in Colorado, these efforts have important implications for the overall environmental impact of our urban areas.
We are also examining ways that communities are preparing for a changing climate. This aspect of our research is examining the community assets that have helped agriculture dependent counties enhance resiliency in the face of drought and other threats to rural livelihoods; the variety of water transfer methods cities are adopting to secure a long-term urban water supply while supporting the needs of farmers and agricultural communities; and the political and technical challenges of city storm water management.
Overall, this year’s State of the Rockies project seeks to illuminate ways that actors in Colorado are rethinking our relationship to a changing climate and to understand how these changes can be built upon to create a more resilient region.
Meet Corina McKendry, New State of the Rockies Project Director
The three pillars of sustainability — environmental protection, economic well-being, and social justice — tie in with the three hats Corina McKendry wears: She is director of the State of the Rockies Project, associate professor of political science, and core faculty in the Environmental Studies program.
The goal of the State of the Rockies Project is to increase understanding of and examine socio-environmental issues in the Rocky Mountain West through collaborative student-faculty research, education, and community engagement.
McKendry joined CC in 2011 and became associate director of the State of the Rockies Project last year before becoming director this fall. She is particularly interested in the ability of cities to further environmental protection in a way that is socially just. Fittingly then, the 2018-19 State of the Rockies Project will examine equity, urbanization, and climate adaption in the Colorado Front Range.
McKendry is the first to serve as the director of the State of the Rockies Project under a new model initiated this year, in which rotating faculty members serve as director for two to three years. The director of the State of the Rockies Project determines the areas of research, with summer research fellows working closely with the director on elements of a larger project. This enables directors to further their own research while supporting student scholars and the overall goals of the State of the Rockies.
“Our current research explores the relationship between urbanization, nature, and climate change across the Front Range of Colorado, with a particular focus on the politics of social equity in climate adaptation,” McKendry says.
The topic is important because Colorado’s population is one of the fastest growing in the country. Though many people are drawn to the state for its natural beauty and outdoor recreational opportunities, rapid growth is putting pressure on these same resources. Climate change is further straining the state’s environment, and drought, floods, and forest fires threaten many of Colorado’s communities. State of the Rockies research will strive to understand the climate vulnerabilities facing Colorado cities, what is being done to address these vulnerabilities, and how barriers to a more equitable and resilient future can be overcome.
McKendry has several goals for the program, one of which is to increase campus-wide understanding of and engagement with the socio-environmental challenges facing the region and what is being done to address these challenges. In order to help achieve this goal, an annual State of the Rockies course has been created. This course, which is taught by the director, focuses on the research area of the current project.
Other efforts to support student engagement this year include funding support for student journalism, a photo contest, and support for the Office of Sustainability’s Sense of Place trips, a collaboration with the Office of Field Study designed to foster a deeper sense of the geography and build a more connected, conscious, and resilient community.
McKendry also wants to increase community engagement, and one way to give back to communities is to share the project’s research findings. Not only does she hope to have student researchers submit their findings as academic articles for scholarly journals, much in the same manner that graduate students do, but also to share them with city leaders. “The research that student fellows conduct this summer will be written up both as policy memos for lawmakers and submitted to academic conferences,” McKendry says.
She also is looking at taking the research fellows to the Association of Environmental Studies and Sciences conference this summer in Orlando, Florida, with the goal of having some of them present their Rockies research the following year.
McKendry received her bachelor’s degree in international studies from Macalester College in Minnesota and her master’s and Ph.D. in politics from the University of California, Santa Cruz. She has published several articles on cities and climate justice, and her book, “Greening Post-Industrial Cities: Growth, Equity, and Environmental Governance,” was published by Routledge Press in 2018.
2019 Research Fellows
MEET the Rockies Fellows
Check their blog bulletins as they explore the challenges of changing climatic conditions in the Rocky Mountain Front Range
Rockies SCOREs at CC's 2019 Family and Friends Weekend faculty-student research conference
State of the Rockies fellows presented their summer projects during this year's Student Collaborative Research Experience (SCORE) conference. The Fellows' research topics ranged from bike lane controversies in Colorado Springs to drought response in agricultural communities, all in the Rocky Mountain Front Range region. Family and friends joined students, faculty, and staff in CC's Cornerstone Arts Center for this summer research symposium held annually during CC's Friends and Family Weekend. View the fellows' posters:
- Community Power Via Community Power: Pueblo's Campaign for a Municipal Utility
- Spiraling-Up through Drought Responses in Colorado's Farming-Dependent Counties
- Framing Climate Change: An Analysis of Colorado's Climate Change Policies
- 'I Love Biking but Hate Bike Lanes:' The History, Controversy, and Contradictions of Bike Infrastructure in Colorado Springs
- Water Sharing Agreements Along Colorado's Front Range
- The Power and Politics of Urban Water Output: Colorado Springs Stormwater
Rockies 2019 Photo Finalists
Aspen decline in Rocky Mountain National Park
by Margaux Rose '20
Ski industry and climate change: decrease in epic skiing?
by Andrew Hildenbrand '20
Conservation in the West poll
Climate Change: A growing concern across the Rocky Mountain West
Colorado College State of the Rockies Project leaders rolled out the 2019 State of the Rockies Conservation in the West Poll on Jan. 31 in Denver at an outdoor recreation industry forum, presenting survey results that show rising public concern about water supplies and climate change. Listen to the live audio.
State of the Rockies director Corina McKendry joined Gov. Jared Polis, conservationists and recreation industry officials at the forum and discussed the poll with journalists. Reporters from around the region phoned in to learn results of this poll that CC commissions each year.
It found that a majority of Colorado residents favor protecting the natural environment and wildlife. Fewer than 25 percent favor the increased production of fossil fuels using public lands that the Trump administration has prioritized. And the survey found that a majority want Congress to protect air, water quality and wildlife on public lands.
McKendry also served on an Outdoor Industry Association panel during a luncheon. A political scientist, McKendry conveyed the history and purpose of CC’s State of the Rockies Project and the poll. For more than a decade, CC students and faculty have looked into major environment issues playing out in the region.
Photo: McKendry sits on luncheon panel with Outdoor Industry Association director Amy Roberts and Center for Western Priorities director Jennifer Rokala.
Public opinion can play a role in shaping government policy. Poll results over the past decade show a consistent strong majority of western voters in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Montana, Idaho, Arizona and New Mexico consider themselves “conservationists.” This year, the poll found that 53 percent of Republicans and 87 percent of Democrats would support local fees or taxes to protect water, wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation opportunities.
McKendry told reporters that the poll findings reveal western values. "That a leadership agenda out of step with those values is met with disapproval in the West is no surprise," McKendry said, “although the rejection of the current administration's priorities is particularly intense here." Photo: Colorado College students Dave Sachs '20 and Jordan Vick '20 check out the Outdoor Industry Snow Show.
Photos by Jennifer Coombes