CSU researcher lands National Science Foundation grant to encourage planting of native plants

image of Audubon Rockies Habitat Hero planting event
An Audubon Rockies Habitat Hero planting event outside of Colorado Springs at Kiowa Creek Ranch in September of 2019. PC: Parker Seibold

A team of Colorado State University researchers is partnering with the City of Fort Collins and the Audubon Rockies Habitat Hero program to encourage Front Range residents to replace lawns with native plants and encourage neighbors to do the same.

Assistant Professor Rebecca Niemiec in the Department of Human Dimensions of Natural Resources at CSU received a $475,503 grant from the National Science Foundation to support the research.  She and her team want to better understand how to encourage people who are already engaged in creating native habitat to effectively communicate with their neighbors about making similar landscaping decisions.

“This research is focused on how to not only encourage individuals to engage in environmental action, but also how to encourage individuals to reach out to others in their social network to promote that action,” said Niemiec. “Encouraging people to spread these pro-environmental behaviors can increase the speed and scale of positive environmental change.”

“Native plants support more local biodiversity, require less resources and give residents a greater sense of place and connection to our Colorado landscape,” said Kate Rentschlar, environmental planner for the City of Fort Collins. “This research will help us design more effective engagement and education materials for our efforts in promoting native landscaping through the Nature in the City Program.”

Engaging the Public

The first part of this project involves surveying over 1,000 Fort Collins residents to learn more about the barriers that residents face when planting native plants and encouraging neighbors to do the same. The survey builds on previous research conducted by Megan Jones, a member of the research team and a postdoctoral scholar at CSU.

Through her doctoral work at CSU, Jones previously identified how gardeners’ motivations change over time as they become more connected with nature and receive encouragement from friends and local programs.

Outreach efforts include discounts on the purchase of native plants

The CSU research team will partner with the City of Fort Collins to implement an outreach campaign, mailing study participants vouchers for discounts of $10 on native plants at local participating nurseries. People participating in the study will also receive vouchers to give to their neighbors.

Next year, the research team will partner with Audubon Rockies on a series of community outreach events about native plant gardening.

“Partnering and collaboration is essential to enhance the collective benefits of our work and build upon our broad organizational wingspan,” said Jamie Weiss, Habitat Hero coordinator for Audubon Rockies. “Working with the City of Fort Collins and Colorado State University will have a greater impact in our community. We are excited to see how this partnership and various outreach strategies can connect even more residents to nature helping to plant a better world for birds and people.”

image of Rebecca Niemiec
Rebecca Niemiec, Assistant Professor in the Department of Human Dimensions of Natural Resources

For more information, visit the Niemiec lab.

Other members involved in the project include:

  • Stacy Lischka, principal consultant, Social Ecological Solutions, LLC
  • Rachel Steeves, environmental planner, City of Fort Collins, Nature in the City
  • Veronica Champine, graduate student, Human Dimensions of Natural Resources Department, and
  • Julia Feder, environmental program manager, City of Fort Collins Natural Areas Department