Western Faculty Work to Preserve Nature with the Gunnison Public Lands Initiative

Snow covered Anthracites sit above a green field.

Western Faculty Work to Preserve Nature with the Gunnison Public Lands Initiative

Katie Lyons
Photo by Jul 16, 2019

Western wouldn’t be Western without where it’s located: Gunnison, Colorado. That means protecting the foothills and forests around campus are a top priority not just for the community, but students and staff as well.

Project Coordinator Maddie Rehn and Assistant Professor & Public Lands Coordinator Melanie Armstrong have embraced that mission, creating lasting impact through work with the Gunnison Public Lands Initiative (GPLI).

A citizen-led, community-based coalition working to protect public lands around Gunnison County, the GPLI develops proposals to permanently protect hundreds of thousands of acres for recreation, wildlife, wilderness and other important values. In early 2019, the GPLI formalized a consensus proposal to protect 452,221 acres of public land. It’s all part of a long-term vision to make sure the next generation of Coloradans get to experience what makes the state so incredible.

As a major part of the Gunnison community, Western is a natural partner for the GPLI. Well-positioned to provide support from experts and students alike, working with the GPLI is just one of the many ways that Western supports the surrounding area.

“The GPLI works with Western to provide students the hands-on experience in community organizing, civic engagement and federal policy development,” Rehn said.

By doing everything from implementing work plans in a timely manner to coordinating project fundraising, Rehn draws on her experience at Western coordinating projects in the School of Environment & Sustainability. Managing those moving parts, which include working with Colorado Sen. and 2020 presidential candidate Michael Bennett, several grant funders and local stakeholders, is integral to helping the GPLI succeed.

Through their work with the GPLI, both Rehn and Armstrong have proven that protecting the Gunnison Valley is a collaborative effort that benefits citizens and students alike.