Published: April 7, 2021

people digging or planting in a grassy fieldProfessor Katherine Lininger was part of a team given a CU Outreach Award for the outreach proposal, “CU Restoration Ecology Experimental Learning Program”, by the CU Boulder Outreach Awards Committee. The effort was led by Tim Seastedt, professor emeritus of INSTAAR and EBIO, and included Professor Sharon Collinge from the Department of Environmental Studies.

This year the proposal pool was very competitive. The committee received 40 applications requesting over $$554,000 in funding. Each proposal was read and carefully considered according to the guidelines by each member of the committee, which is comprised of faculty members from a wide range of disciplines and a staff member representing the Office for Outreach and Engagement. The committee then met and deliberated together in order to select the strongest proposals

Outreach awards are made possible by financial contributions from the Office of the Chancellor, the Office of the Provost, and the Division of Continuing Education. The awards are administered by the CU Boulder Office for Outreach and Engagement.

Congratulations to Katherine and the team!


Restoration Ecology and Regenerative Agriculture

The United Nations declared 2021-2030 the Decade of Ecosystem Restoration, and the Society for Ecological Research emphasizes that restoration is the critical tool for creating "net-positive" environmental change.  Our CU outreach effort embraces this action and has already been active in advocating and conducting science-based ecological research for a number of years.  We envision restoration as something we can do to enhance both mitigation and adaptation to climate change, as well as improve the quality of life within our Front Range communities.  While restoration ecology developed in the response to heal natural areas impacted by human activities and catastrophic events such as wildfires and floods, this approach is now also being applied to our agricultural and built environments, where enhancing the quality and abundance of food while generating healthy soils and conservation opportunities are in great demand.

Our project has CU instructors (faculty, staff, and graduate students) functioning as educators associated with hands-on youth and family restoration efforts. To date, we have partnered with Wildlands Restoration Volunteers, a nonprofit trained in restoration techniques, to conduct meaningful activities for school groups and communities. Our efforts in 2020 focused on natural areas restoration, in particular involved in fuel reduction and wetland enhancement following flooding or termination of agricultural activities in floodplains. We also are developing regenerative agriculture efforts that emphasize soil health and biological diversity.

Group of people standing forest with cut brush and treesPhoto above: A fuel reduction project at Cal-Wood Environmental Center.  Led by graduate student Julie Larson (center), the students involved in the Wildlands Youth Leadership Development (WYLD) program remove fuels from the forest floor in an attempt to replace a tree-destroying canopy fire with a benign surface fire.  This area subsequently burned in a 2020 wildfire, and students plan to return to see what happened…and to revegetate areas by stream-sides. 

Our 2020 effort became one that was able to adapt to the restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic.  Because our activities were outdoors and equipment and tools could be sanitized before and after use by individuals, we were able to socially distance and pursue restoration projects.  

Woman with pink backpack kneeling in vegetated area

Beginning in 2020, our projects expanded to involve agricultural restorations such as planting shrubs and wind breaks to accumulate snow, reduce surface wind erosion and evaporation, and to enhance the abundance and diversity of pollinators.  This work can not only increase local production of desirable foods, but also provide climate benefits by enhancing surface cooling and increasing carbon sequestration into soils.

Our CU mission is to explain the importance and necessity of these restorative activities as climate change problems intensify.  Stakeholders should know that local efforts such as these can have long-term benefits, and when such activities are undertaken by a large number of communities these effects are measurable at scales that can affect the future climate. In the short-term these same efforts improve the overall health, diversity and sustainability of landscapes and communities. These activities are viewed as a win-win-win program: Individuals enhance their own fitness and well-being, improve the quality of life within the community, and enhance the conservation and ecosystem services value of the natural environment.

people digging or planting in a grassy fieldPeople digging with shovelsPeople raking dirt with garden rakes3 people stacking brush pilePeople gardeningPeople standing on a dirt road.

CU restoration ecology outreach activities, summer and fall, 2020.  Planting cottonwoods at Lone Hawk; planting a pollinator garden at Wanaka Lake); Road obliteration and seeding at Thorne Nature Center; Fuel reduction at CalWood; planting at Sandstone Park; Fuel reduction at Eldorado State Park.