Earlier this year, Colorado State University’s Salazar Center for North American Conservation announced a $10,000 prize for a faculty or research staff member whose work demonstrates substantial and measurable on-the-ground impact in the field of conservation.
The Salazar Center recently announced Liba Pejchar, an associate professor in the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Biology in the Warner College of Natural Resources, as the winner of the inaugural CSU Conservation Impact Prize.
“As a land grant university, Colorado State University is committed to improving people’s lives, not just on campus but across Colorado, and beyond,” CSU President Joyce McConnell said. “While this inaugural award is one of the many ways we’re celebrating the university’s sesquicentennial, it is also indicative of how highly we prioritize conservation impact as key to our identity as the most sustainable university in the country. I am so excited to see Dr. Pejchar named the first recipient of this award. Her work exemplifies the real-world impact that our extraordinary faculty and staff have on our world every day.”
Pejchar was nominated by her peers at CSU for her outstanding work in the field of conservation, including her efforts focusing on the City of Fort Collins’ Nature in the City program and her commitment to increasing diversity and inclusion in her field.
“She brings a really unique and valuable perspective to the field of natural resources,” said Tony Cheng, director of the Colorado Forest Restoration Institute and a professor of forest and rangeland stewardship at CSU, who also was on the award’s review committee. “The lens through which she views conservation doesn’t emphasize negative human impacts like most researchers. She looks for opportunities in which human land uses and economies can have positive impacts on biodiversity.”
A commitment to conservation
Pejchar’s partnership with the Wildlife Conservation Society and the City of Fort Collins on its Nature in the City program includes the creation of a bird- and butterfly-monitoring program, a citizen science effort that engages local residents in collecting ecological data. That information, in turn, continues to be used by the city to establish science-based conservation targets and to inform its management of urban green spaces and natural areas.
Since it was launched, the project has also guided the city’s decisions on how and where to invest in new conservation efforts and recruited more than 150 community members in data collection – a process that participants say has increased their understanding and appreciation of urban nature and interest in local conservation initiatives. It also served as the hands-on training ground for two former CSU students who have since embarked on successful careers in environmental planning and conservation.
In addition to her work in Fort Collins, Pejchar was lauded by her colleagues for her efforts to examining the impacts of oil and gas and real estate development on wildlife habitat, including policy interventions to support best practices related to land use and private land conservation.
Her efforts have helped guide private landowners in developing properties in ways that sustain biodiversity – an approach one colleague described as revolutionary.
“She emphasizes that we can develop and manage human communities in ways that support both conservation and livelihood goals,” said Peter Backlund, associate director of CSU’s School of Global Environmental Sustainability, who also is a review committee member. “Her approach to this kind of conservation development is often overlooked by people in her field, but it’s incredibly important.”
Pejchar has been recognized for her commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion in the field of conservation biology. She was the founding adviser of the CSU SEEDS chapter, which seeks to increase equity and diversity in ecology, and was a member and co-chair of the Warner College of Natural Resources’ Diversity and Inclusion Committee. This work extends to her lab, where she has trained and mentored minority students and peers, who are often underrepresented in conservation biology.
“Perhaps more than any academic at CSU, Liba has been a constant, unwavering and diplomatic pressure on promoting gender and ethnicity issues for those who serve on the front lines of education, research and service in Colorado,” said Rick Knight, who nominated Pejchar for the award and is a professor emeritus in CSU’s Department of Human Dimensions of Natural Resources.
“Many conservation biologists would like to see more diversity within their field, but few people actually do the work to move us in that direction,” said Ruth Hufbauer, a colleague from the College of Agricultural Sciences.
About the Impact Prize
This was the first time the Salazar Center awarded the CSU Conservation Impact Prize. Nominations from more than a dozen faculty and research staff on campus focused on nominees in three of the CSU’s eight colleges, and the pool highlighted the caliber, range and diversity of research and impact being realized by the university.
Pejchar will be recognized at the Salazar Center’s second annual international symposium, which will be held virtually in September.