Portrait of Laura Backus
INSTAAR AffiliateTechnical Advisor, Wildlands Restoration VolunteersEcologist, Engineers Without Borders
• Restoration of riparian ecology • Flood recovery


Ecological restoration in wetlands and post-flood riparian areas; monitoring long-term results of volunteer restoration projects; erosion control with native species in Ecuadorian cloud forest.

Laura Backus is an ecologist and wetland scientist with experience in restoration, conservation, and transportation projects including: 

  • Planning and conducting restoration projects in riparian, wetland, plains, and mountain ecological communities, planting crew oversight, post-project monitoring.
  • Stream and riparian condition surveys including documentation of conditions one and two years after the 2013 flood at properties along Boulder, Left Hand, and St. Vrain Creeks.
  • Baseline ecological surveys.
  • Wetland delineation, functional analysis, permitting, conceptual mitigation design.
  • Rare plant surveys; and weed mapping.


Project Activities

 Vrain Creek Peschel Property 2013 flood restoration project

Technical advisor for a cooperative effort by Brian Sechler, an INSTAAR graduate student with Tim Seastedt, his INSTAAR faculty advisor, Wildlands Restoration Volunteers, and the City of Longmont. Conducted site planning and project day supervision of fifty volunteers to install over 100 native cottonwoods and willows plus over 5000 wetland plugs for Mr. Sechler's master's degree project investigating the use of biochar in post-flood cobble plantings. Technical Advisor of the Year Award, 2014 and 2016.

Monitoring Wildlands Restoration Volunteers projects

  • Co-chair of Wildlands Restoration Volunteers’ Monitoring Committee.
  • Developed the WRV Quick Monitor form for project sites dating back to 1999 to qualitatively document project success or failure, unintended consequences, maintenance needed, and important lessons for future projects.
  • Monitored numerous old project sites and mentored new volunteers.
  • In previous years, Technical Advisor for restoration projects at Chico Basin bird habitat restoration, Eldorado Canyon State Park flood restoration, Broomfield Open Space riparian planting, Lyons flood restoration, Table Mountain Mediterranean sage removal, Coal Creek flood restoration.

Erosion control project in Malingua Pamba, Ecuador

  • Participated in Engineers Without Borders water supply and erosion control projects in a Quecha community in the Andes Mountains where farming of steep slopes, livestock grazing, and infrastructure construction has led to substantial loss of valuable organic topsoil in the cloud forest areas.
  • Set a goal of empowering the communities to implement low-cost and sustainable methods of erosion control based on locally-available materials. 
  • Worked with community leaders to select and set up erosion control plantings at high priority sites adjacent to water supply infrastructure and roads.
  • Selected appropriate native plant species and directed “mingas” (community cooperative work groups) and EWB volunteers in project implementation.
  • Documented plant species, and erosion control techniques for use by the community and EWB National.
  • Monitored revegetation progress to confirm plant survival and increase in slope stability.
  • Help facilitate further projects initiated by the community.

Front Range projects for local governments

  • Riparian inventory and assessment along Boulder County Parks and Open Space Properties along Boulder, Left Hand, and St. Vrain Creeks following 2013 floods. Conducted with Susan Sherrod for Boulder County Parks and Open Space under the 2014 Small Grants Program.
  • Poudre River Downtown Project: Ecologist for a City of Fort Collins Natural Areas Program project to improve ecological conditions in the Cache La Poudre riparian area.  Mapped areas of native trees to remain undisturbed and non-native trees which could be removed.
  • Sterling Natural Area: Wetland scientist for a City of Fort Collins Natural Areas Program to improve ecological conditions in the Cache La Poudre riparian area.
  • Boulder Reservoir Environmental Inventory & Analysis: Ecologist for a City of Boulder Parks and Recreation project to document ecological conditions for site management plan at Boulder Reservoir.  Conducted detailed mapping of vegetation types, evaluated current conditions, and developed management recommendations.

Selected Publications

Laura Backus, Churnside, K. 2016: Death Valley Super Bloom. Self-published, 37 pp.

Mahoney, W., Laura Backus 2015: Atacando la erosion de suelo en una comunidad indígena andina. Control de Erosion, 9(13).

Laura Backus 2015: Post-monitoring and evaluation report for erosion control project in the community of Malingua Pamba, Ecuador. Engineers Without Borders document 531.

Laura Backus, Sherrod, S. 2014: Riparian Inventory and Assessment of Post-Flood Conditions, Boulder County Parks and Open Space Properties: Boulder, Left Hand, and St. Vrain Creeks, Boulder County, Colorado. Report to Boulder County Parks and Open Space.