2017 Natural Areas Conference: Collaboration Triumphs in Fort Collins

The 2017 Natural Areas Conference took place October 10-12, 2017, at the Hilton Fort Collins, Fort Collins, Colorado, on the edge of the majestic Front Range. The event brought 400 attendees and featured almost 200 speakers, and was supported by many local organizations such as the City of Fort Collins Natural Areas, Colorado State University, Denver Natural Resources, The Nature Conservancy Colorado Field Office, Larimer Country Natural Resources, City of Boulder Open Space & Mountain Parks, Colorado Natural Heritage Program – and Odells Brewery, our local Beer Sponsor for the event.

The conference was also supported by the Bureau of Land Management, the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, Bayer U.S., and Sitka Technology Group.

Access all the talks from both the Opening and Closing Plenary Sessions from the 2017 conference.

One of the reasons Fort Collins was the 2017 conference destination is that the region offers so many innovative examples of natural areas management and preservation – many of which were discussed during the opening plenary session, closing plenary panel, various presentations, and showcased during the highly popular Field Workshops.

The conference theme, Collaboration as a Key to Natural Areas Management, was in part a recognition of the critical role collaboration – among governmental agencies large and small, landowners, businesses, and organizations working to preserve and manage natural areas – plays in the natural areas profession.

Our plenary sessions grappled with many aspects of collaboration, and the huge challenges facing natural areas professionals. After a welcome from Natural Areas Association Executive Director Lisa Smith and Conference Chair Terri Hogan of the National Park Service, our opening plenary kicked off with a keynote was given by Darla Sidles, the Superintendent of the Rocky Mountain National Park. Darla’s keynote, Keeping Natural Areas Natural: Juggling Resource Protection and Heavy Visitor Use, took on a growing management challenge for some of our most popular natural areas. In Deep Advocacy, Click-Bait Hazards, and Collaborative Conservation, John Stokes, Director of the City of Fort Collins Natural Area Department, talked about the possible role of collaborative empowerment in the future of our profession, and Dave Anderson, Director of the Colorado Natural Heritage Program at CSU, spoke on the natural history of Colorado.

Our closing plenary focused on the sometimes overlooked role of smaller natural areas in the goals of preservation and management. Managing Smaller Natural Areas: Case Studies on the Role they Play in Protection started with case studies and ended with a panel moderated by Greg Aplet, Senior Science Director of the Wilderness Society. Scott Black, Executive Director of the Xerces Society talked about how partnership helped to conserve the endangered Mardon Skipper butterfly. Heather Knight, Associate Director of the Center for Collaborative Conservation, focused on the crucial role played by collaboration in her land preservation and management work in her presentation If You Want to Go Fast, Go Alone. If You Want to Go Far, Go Together. Reed Noss, of the Florida Institute for Conservation Science, tied the preservation of a patchwork of small natural and semi-natural areas to the successful conservation of larger ones in Florida.

NAA believes that these important presentations and discussion should be accessible to everyone in the natural areas community who can benefit from them, so the video archive of all plenary talks and the panel are freely available on the NAA YouTube channel.

The conference also included symposia, organized oral sessions and presentations on Communicating about Natural Areas Conservation, Pollinator Conservation, Urban Conservation, Technology for Land Management Success, Invasive Species Management, Fire and Native Seed.

Here are just some of the statistics from the event:
  • 4 days of events
  • Almost 400 attendees
  • Plenary sessions on two days
  • Almost 200 individual speakers
  • 24 students received scholarships to attend the conference
  • 6 student awards given
  • 7 Field Workshops to local natural areas
The 2017 George B. Fell and Carl N. Becker Awards were given Wednesday, October 11 at the annual Awards Dinner at the Hilton Fort Collins. The George B. Fell Award, the NAA’s highest award, was given to Larry Smith (see picture at left), who from 1990 to his retirement in 2015, worked as a natural protection manager for the Virginian Natural Heritage Program. The 2017 winner of the Carl N. Becker Stewardship Award was Bill Kleiman, who for 24 years has been the project director at The Nature Conservancy’s Nachusa Grasslands in Illinois. We at NAA could not be more proud of these two winners.

The 2017 Student Awards were also handed out during the annual Awards Banquet. For the poster winners (see picture at right: Lisa Smith, Lydia Baldwin, Andreas Wion and Javier Sagra), first place was Javier Sagra for “Predation on Early Recruitment in Mediterranean Forests After Prescribed Fires”; second place was Andreas Wion for “Effects of Climate Change on Mast-Seeding in a Semi-arid Conifer: Pinyon Pine (Pinus Edulis)”; and third place was Lydia Baldwin for “Restoring Carbon Sequestration Processes in a degraded Wet Meadow. In papers, first place was awarded to Erika Valek for “Challenges of Utilizing Municipal Compost as an Amendment in Boreal Forest Reclamation on Nutrient Poor Sites”; second place went to Thomas Timberlake for “Examining the U.S. Forest Service’s Climate Change Vulnerability Assessments: Themes and Opportunities” and third place went to Allison E. Rhea for “Tracing Elevated Stream Nutrient Export Back to Wildfire.” Congratulations to them all!

With so many nearby, stunning natural areas, attendees of the conference could choose from seven Field Workshops at the 2017 conference. From Rocky Mountain National Park to Soapstone Prairie Natural Area; from the Urban River Restoration Bike Ride to the Poudre River and Poudre Canyon, these workshops showcased a wide variety of land and natural areas management approaches.

Thanks to all the many attendees of the 2017 Natural Areas Conference—we hope to see you in Bloomington, October 23-25, when the theme will Building Resilience: The Future of Natural Areas. Mark your calendars and watch for our Call for Proposals, due out March 2018!


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