Middle school students investigate urban wildlife

Northern Colorado residents often interact with wildlife while exploring the plains and foothills that surround this region. However, not everyone sees the amazing animals that live within our urban settings. Now, thanks to a collaboration between Colorado State University, Poudre School District, and the Rocky Mountain Cat Conservancy, students in Fort Collins have discovered how humans and wildlife interact in urban settings. 

The findings of this project are on display at Foothills Mall until Jan. 15, as part of the Poudre School District (PSD) Art Show located in the seating area outside of Macy’s. The display showcases the remote camera photo data collected near middle schools, the result of this 4-year collaboration.

The project provides middle school science teachers with local, place-based curriculum for teaching ecological concepts. The photos provide evidence of urban wildlife leading students to investigate how humans and wildlife interact. Students are able to connect their questions, investigations, and learning to the places where they live and play.

Four years ago when DeeDee Wright, who was just starting her Ph.D. program, was the Science Curriculum Facilitator for Poudre School District, Caroline Krumm and Don Hunter from the Rocky Mountain Cat Conservancy approached her about collaborating to educate PSD students about local wildlife using camera traps near middle schools. Led by Wright, Krumm, Hunter, Laura Grissom, the current PSD Science Curriculum Facilitator, and CSU Professor Kevin Crooks, the project required many hours of work getting cameras positioned and checked, photographic data sorted, and curriculum developed. Undergraduate students in the CSU chapter of The Wildlife Society supported the collection of photographic data.

Originally funded through a grant from the Poudre School District Foundation, the project also received the EPA Environmental Education Grant, allowing the researchers to include rural schools and fund outdoor experiences for middle school students to Bobcat Ridge Natural Area, where RMCC has cameras. Crooks also supported the project through National Science Foundation funding for a Research Experience for Teachers (RET) he had received. The RET has supported the project by providing funding for teacher professional development workshops and participation stipends. 

Wright has been able to use this project as part of her research examining the factors that influence teacher’s decisions about place-based environmental curriculum in their classrooms. Wright explained her intention for the project, saying “Our hope is that this will engage more teachers, students, and possibly some community members in thinking about urban wildlife in Fort Collins”. 

Wright is a Ph.D. candidate in the Graduate Degree Program in Ecology in the Department of Biology, advised by Meena Balgopal. The Department of Biology is in the College of Natural Sciences