Colorado State University and Collaborators Awarded NSF Grant to Develop Climate Change Education Tools at National Parks and Wildlife Refuges

The National Science Foundation awarded nearly $1 million to a collaborative team led by Colorado State University to develop a strategy for educating national park and wildlife refuge visitors about climate change. Project partners are the National Parks Conservation Association, the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The award is one of 15 made by the National Science Foundation as part of its Climate Change Education Partnership program. The NSF program is designed to connect climate scientists, experts in theories on how people learn science, and formal and informal education experts with the goal of increasing public understanding of global climate change and preparing the next generation of scientists and educators.

The CSU-led team will build a national network of partners at parks, refuges and surrounding communities to develop a suite of innovative educational programs and resources for communicating the impacts of climate change on some of America’s favorite landscapes.

Each year, more than 300 million people visit America’s national parks and wildlife refuges, areas that serve as natural laboratories for mitigating and adapting to climate change impacts.

“Partnering with the national parks and wildlife refuges creates a unique opportunity to use place-based learning to educate a diverse audience about the impacts of climate change,” said Jessica Thompson, team leader and assistant professor in the Department of Human Dimensions of Natural Resources in CSU’s Warner College of Natural Resources.

For example, at any one of the 388 national park sites or 552 wildlife refuges, citizens may witness the impact of disappearing glaciers, increased wildfires, drought, sea level rise and erosion, and large tracts of vegetation change, including thousands of acres of forests killed by bark beetle infestations.

The partnership network will bring together park, refuge and community members to share resources, experiences and ideas for improving informal public education about climate change.

“Currently, there is a gap between scientific research and climate change education for citizens. Hopefully, visitors will begin to understand how climate change is impacting America’s greatest treasures and be motivated to make choices to live more sustainably,” Thompson said.

In the next six months, the team plans to work with partners in parks, refuges and communities interested in integrating climate change research into their interpretation and education programs. Together, the partners will develop place-based education plans to effectively engage audiences in hands-on climate change education. 

CSU/REI EcoSeries – Climate Change: What Does it Mean for the Rocky Mountain West?

Thompson will join a panel of other leading experts in climate change from Colorado State University to discuss the impacts of the changing climate on the Rocky Mountain West as part of CSU Alumni Association’s EcoSeries. The experts will discuss the how the general public will begin to notice climate change impacts on recreation and other day-to-day activities. The free event is at 7 p.m. Sept. 27 at REI’s Denver flagship store, 1416 Platte St. For more information and to register, visit

About CSU’s Warner College of Natural Resources

The Warner College of Natural Resources offers a comprehensive range of undergraduate and graduate degree programs that address current environmental issues and societal concerns. The college is one of the largest in the country with 1,200 undergraduate students, 300 graduate students, world-class faculty, and 500 scientists, researchers, support staff and student employees. Programs range from tourism, forestry and geosciences to conservation biology and ecosystem science. For more information, visit