The inaugural event of the Warner College Dean’s Distinguished Lecture Series, Further Together, delighted a sold-out crowd on Monday, Dec. 5 as more than 80 people filled Avogadro’s Number in Fort Collins to hear CSU 2022 Distinguished Alumna, Cindy Williams, speak about her role as a co-lead for Envision Chaffee County.
The motivation behind the speaker series came from the Warner College of Natural Resources’ desire to connect with the greater Fort Collins community by sharing conservation and sustainability stories that are having positive impacts in Colorado and around the world.
With so much attention focused on the negative impacts of climate change, A. Alonso Aguirre, dean of the Warner College of Natural Resources, acknowledges that it can be hard to find the hopeful stories but says it’s important to remember that there is so much good happening in conservation and sustainability of our natural resources.
“Our Warner graduates are out in the world doing impactful and innovative science and practice,” said Aguirre. “We want to make sure these natural resources success stories are being told and Cindy William’s work with Envision Chaffee County is the perfect example of people making a real difference in this field.”
About Cindy Williams
Williams received both her B.S. (’89) and M.S. (’92) in geology from WCNR and has served on the college’s Dean’s Council since 2017. After spending 30 years as an executive in the domestic and international mining industry, Williams retired to Chaffee County, Colorado. However, Williams wasn’t retired long before her knowledge for natural resources conservation and a passion for her community led her to help create a transformational movement in her new county.
About Envision Chaffee County
Home to the most rafted river in the world and popular tourist towns such as Salida and Buena Vista, Chaffee County, Colorado has seen incredible growth over the past decade or more, growth that without intervention and thoughtful management would be unsustainable.
In 2017, a group of eight concerned citizens came together to form Envision Chaffee County, with Greg Felt, Chairman of the Chaffee County Board of Commissioners, and Williams as co-leads.
Through a series of community surveys and research, Envision Chaffee County put out a report card of their findings, and the grades were not good.
“Our grade toward creating the future that citizens desire – a future with thriving forests, waters, wildlife and working lands – was a ‘C’,” said Williams. “We learned that we were simply not on the right path to have the future the community envisioned.”
With a mission to improve those grades, Envision Chaffee County continued to catalyze the community to help address many challenges associated with growth but as with any endeavor, funds were needed to carry out some of the necessary programs and projects. In 2018, the Chaffee Common Ground ballot passed, ensuring the community would have a funding stream for landscape-scale challenges facing forest health, rural private lands, and outdoor recreation with a dedicated 0.25% sales tax. The $5 million gained from the ballot initiative so far has been leveraged to $24 million in matching funds.
“People cared so much about sustaining natural resources and our quality of life in the county that they voted to tax themselves to help ensure that these important assets are protected today and for future generations,” said Williams.
“People cared so much about sustaining natural resources and our quality of life in the county that they voted to tax themselves to help ensure that these important assets are protected today and for future generations.”
— Cindy Williams, co-lead for Envision Chaffee County
The community has delivered on the promise of Envision’s initial planning phase by supporting and funding 38 of 40 original, impactful projects that are completed or are substantially complete in the three categories laid out in The Chaffee County community action plan.
The projects Envision spearheaded include:
- The development and implementation of a Next Generation Community Wildfire Protection plan reducing severe wildfire threats to community assets by treating the most impactful 30,000 acres (5% of the landscape) by 2030.
- The development and implementation of the Chaffee County Outdoor Recreation Management Plan focused on keeping recreation clean and fun.
- The advancement of a suite of “keep working lands working” projects to sustain agricultural fields including a five-year conservation lease program.
Envision Chaffee County’s initial planning phase started with the involvement of more than 1,500 people and 80 organizations in 2017. To date, more than 6,000 people from 41 states and 100 organization have helped make numerous community visions a reality.
Among the many successful partnerships Envision has, Warner College’s Colorado Natural Heritage Program, the Colorado Forest Restoration Institute, and Colorado State Forest Service have been instrumental in wildfire preparedness and conservation planning.
A Measure of Success
Williams shared that some of the things that have made collaborative community planning and action work so well include having a shared vision, measuring and reporting – what gets measured gets managed, and having big goals that can sometimes feel really scary.
“When we started, it felt impossible,” said Williams. “But we’re doing it.”
Now other Colorado counties such as Lake County and Gunnison County, are looking to replicate some of the models that Envision Chaffee County created to protect natural resources and address community challenges in their own areas. CFRI is currently using the “Chaffee Wildfire Model” in many areas across the state.
“What Cindy is doing in Chaffee County is not only inspirational but can be transformational because it is reproducible,” said Ed Warner, conservationist, businessman, and philanthropist, known for his 2005 gift to endow the Warner College of Natural Resources, the university’s first named college. “There’s no reason this model can’t be replicated across the Western Slope and the Eastern Plains where agriculture is so important.”
“What Cindy is doing in Chaffee County is not only inspirational but can be transformational because it is reproducible.”
— Ed Warner
Williams hopes to one day see this model of community impact grow to cover the entire state of Colorado.
Watch Cindy’s Lecture
Future Lecture Series
“Thank you to everyone who attended the first lecture in our new series,” said Aguirre. “We are looking forward to connecting with the community again in the spring.”
Details on a Spring 2023 lecture are forthcoming.