One-on-One with Corina McKendry, associate professor of political science at Colorado College and also director of the State of the Rockies Project

Each month, BizWest asks a business leader to participate in a question and answer feature to help shed light on a business topic, an industry or add insight to a field of endeavor. This month, Corina McKendry, associate professor of political science at Colorado College and also director of the State of the Rockies Project, was asked to assess the relationship between society and environmental challenges in the Rocky Mountain West. In addition to research by students and faculty, the project includes the Conservation in the West poll, which surveys residents in the Western U.S. on their thoughts on climate, the environment and public lands.

BizWest: How did the State of the Rockies start and how did you get involved with it?

Corina McKendry: The State of the Rockies Project was started 16 years ago by an Economics and Environmental Science professor at Colorado College. He ran the project until he retired a few years ago. With his retirement, we undertook a strategic planning process to rethink how the project worked, how it served the community, and how we could build on the more than a decade of successful research and stakeholder engagement to make the project even stronger. I was asked by the president of the college to lead the strategic planning last year and then to take over as the project director starting in the fall of 2018.

BW: What is the significance of determining what the State of the Rockies is each year? What can we learn from it?

McKendry: For the first several years of the project there was a “scorecard” of sorts. The name really makes sense in the context of that scorecard. But after a few years the scorecard changed into a report, offering in-depth research and analysis into pressing issues facing the region. As such, though we’ve kept the name the State of the Rockies Project, we no longer attempt to convey the complexity of the Rocky Mountain West in some sort of scoring. Instead, it is an overarching framework for thinking about the relationship between understanding and solving the myriad challenges the region faces.

BW: What notable trends have you noticed over time in regard to the Conservation in the West Poll?

McKendry: We’ve been sponsoring the poll for nine years now. One thing that has remained consistent is that people in the Rocky Mountain West care about protecting public lands and natural resources. We also overwhelmingly see ourselves as conservationists and outdoor enthusiasts. It’s not just a stereotype of the region — the survey finds that people enjoy and want to protect the natural beauty that defines the region.

The biggest change that we saw this year in the poll was that there is more concern about the impact of climate change on the region than we’ve seen in the past. People are starting to see that climate change is not in the future or impacting just some far-off country. It’s here and is impacting our lives.

BW: What have been some of the more surprising results you’ve seen?

McKendry: I’m not surprised by this, but one thing that a lot of people are surprised by is that the support for public lands conservation in the West is bipartisan. Yes, there are some partisan differences we find in our poll, but in most cases they are not nearly as stark as one would imagine from the discourse we hear on the national level.

BW: Results from the polling shows Coloradans value outdoor land and environment. What do you think that means for the future, especially given the contentious politics surrounding the environment, climate and outdoors.

McKendry: I think that it means there is potential for us to have genuine conversations about the future of our public lands, how we will adapt to a changing climate, and how we protect nature and human well-being. Recognizing that people with different backgrounds and different political persuasions actually have many shared values in these areas is vital for building the space and trust necessary to have these kinds of conversations.

BW: What else  would like readers to know about your work and the State of the Rockies project?

McKendry: The project does a lot more than the poll. We will be sponsoring a conference this fall, and we often bring speakers to campus to present on socio-environmental issues to the wider Colorado Springs community. This summer I will be working with five Colorado College students conducting research on climate vulnerability and adaptation in the rapidly urbanizing Front Range of Colorado. Our goal is to help cities understand the vulnerabilities they face and how they can adapt to climate change in a way that takes seriously issues of social equity and greenhouse gas mitigation.

Editor’s note: This interview was edited and condensed.

Each month, BizWest asks a business leader to participate in a question and answer feature to help shed light on a business topic, an industry or add insight to a field of endeavor. This month, Corina McKendry, associate professor of political science at Colorado College and also director of the State of the Rockies Project, was asked to assess the relationship between society and environmental challenges in the Rocky Mountain West. In addition to research by students and faculty, the project includes the Conservation in the West poll, which surveys residents in the Western U.S. on their thoughts on climate, the environment and public lands.

BizWest: How did the State of the Rockies start and how did you get involved with it?

Corina McKendry: The State of the Rockies Project was started 16 years ago by an Economics and Environmental Science professor at Colorado College. He ran the project until he retired a few years ago. With his retirement, we undertook a strategic planning process to rethink how the project worked, how it served the community, and how we could build on the more than a decade of successful research and stakeholder engagement to make the project even stronger. I was asked by the president of the college to lead the strategic planning last year and then to take over as the project director starting in the fall of 2018.

BW: What is the significance of determining what the State of…