WCS balances growth with conservation in the Rocky Mountain West

WCS balances growth with conservation in the Rocky Mountain West


Citizen scientists trained by WCS identified public and private lands to create a connected open space network for wildlife that the community of Fort Collins financed by raising the city sales tax.

WCS helped citizen scientists to learn about “Nature in the City,” building a strong constituency to protect threatened wildlife species in the Rocky Mountain West. As a result, the community voted to support a $3 million tax initiative to protect and restore important wildlife habitats on public and private lands that cover over half the current area of the city.


Fort Collins is located in north central Colorado, in a scenic and ecologically important transition zone between the Rocky Mountains and Great Plains. In the past century, the city’s population has grown by more the 20 times, and is expected to double again in the next 50 years. Like many places in this region nature is an important part of the community’s character and quality of life, and its residents asked WCS to help maintain “Nature in the City.”

In 2014, we collaborated with Fort Collins to complete the first citywide assessment of biodiversity across public and private open space. The results were used to design a connected open space network accessible to the entire community with functional habitat for plants and wildlife. The following year WCS helped to create a volunteer citizen science program for monitoring wildlife on public and private open space throughout the community. In addition to helping inform land-use and management decisions, the program is increasing participants’ scientific literacy and connection to nature and building an engaged constituency in support of habitat protection and restoration. We believe this approach of building a knowledgeable and engaged constituency of citizens could be replicated in other communities seeking to protect nature in the face of rapid population growth and development in the Rocky Mountain West.


Protecting Habitat IconHABITAT: WCS mapped, monitored, and identified 1,389 public and private open spaces that serve as core habitat patches and corridors for wildlife and cover 42% of the city’s growth management area. These wildlife habitats are now part of Fort Collins strategy to retain “Nature in the City.”

Effective Governance IconGOVERNANCE: In 2015, the Fort Collins government unanimously adopted the Nature in the City strategic plan, which includes policies and actions to ensure that high-quality habitats are protected and restored on public and private lands throughout the community. Eight-one percent of residents voted in favor of an increase in the sales tax to provide $3 million of funding to implement the initiative over the next 10 years.

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WCS, the "W" logo, WE STAND FOR WILDLIFE, I STAND FOR WILDLIFE, and STAND FOR WILDLIFE are service marks of Wildlife Conservation Society.

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