Colorado State Warner College of Natural Resources Student Honored by the Rocky Mountains Cooperative Ecosystems Studies Unit

Katie Driver, a Colorado State University student from the Warner College of Natural Resources, was honored with the 2009 Rocky Mountains Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Unit Student Achievement Award for her work in creating a protocol for monitoring wetlands in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Driver has a long history of interest and experience in botany. At the age of 14, she completed a botany project surveying flowering plants in an open field near her home in Wisconsin. The project, funded through a grant encouraging middle school students to engage in academia, was only the beginning of Driver’s research life.

“Surprisingly enough, this experience affected the trajectory of my education, career and life,” said Driver.

Attending Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., Driver majored in biology but enrolled in every botany course the school had to offer. “I had a professor there who was a botanist himself, and he acted a mentor and encouraged my interests,” said Driver. She took her first botany-related job in college collecting plant species in Yellowstone National Park and afterwards continued to travel around the country working miscellaneous jobs in the field.

It was the Colorado National Heritage Program at Colorado State that gave Driver her first full-time seasonal field botanist position. “Here, I was able to really develop my plant identification skills and my knowledge of Rocky Mountain vegetation communities,” said Driver. Her work with the Colorado Natural Heritage Program gave her the opportunity to work in both Rocky Mountain National Park and Great Sand Dunes Park and Preserve collecting plant species data to help create park vegetation maps.

“I knew I had found the ideal career for myself but I needed to further my education to become a professional in my field. Colorado was my home. I had connections at CSU and knew it had a great reputation for its science and natural resources programs,” said Driver.

Driver was put in contact with David Cooper, a senior research scientist in CSU’s Warner College of Natural Resources, who was to begin a wetland project in Rocky Mountain National Park that year. Cooper and his team of CSU graduate students were planning to design and implement a long-term protocol for monitoring wetlands in Rocky Mountain National Park. The National Park Service needed a system to monitor its vital habitats nationwide and RMNP was chosen as a test site.

“My main roles in the project were first to create a wetland map of the park using existing vegetation community data, stereoscopic imagery, and hand delineation. Once those wetlands were identified and delineated a subset of them were selected for visiting and sampling,” said Driver.

During the course of two summers, Driver and her peers installed ground water monitoring wells, and permanent vegetation plot marker and took plant samples from over 130 wetlands throughout the national park.

“Katie managed crews of other scientists working with her each year, and both enjoyed and endured long backpack trips to access sites in remote areas of Rocky. Katie set a high standard for work ethic, persistence and determination. She will make a valuable contribution to any agency that she works for in the future,” said Cooper.

“Personally, I don’t think I could have worked harder or done better on this project. I gave it all I had,” said Driver.

Driver is currently working for the Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming, focusing on vegetation monitoring and grazing effects. Driver plans to complete her thesis within the next few months and pursue a job as a botanist or ecologist with one of the federal agencies in the Wyoming area.

“Knowing that other people on the project recognized this has made me feel really appreciated,” said Driver.