Graduate Students at CSU’s Warner College of Natural Resources Win National Barrett Foundation Prize

The National Forest Foundation has awarded a team of five Colorado State University graduate students from the Warner College of Natural Resources with second place in the Barrett Foundation Prize for their project titled, “Watershed Services – An innovative, all lands approach to watershed stewardship.” The inaugural national competition challenged teams from around the nation to develop new and innovative ideas regarding land stewardship, and cultivate them into business plans addressing market-based incentives for forest stewardship on National Forest System lands.

CSU Winning Team Members include:
– Shayna Brause, Department of Human Dimensions of Natural Resources
– Esther Duke, Department of Human Dimensions of Natural Resources
– Patrick Flynn, Center for Collaborative Conservation and Department of Agricultural & Resource Economics
– Heidi Huber-Stearns, Department of Forest & Rangeland Stewardship              
– Ted Toombs, Department of Human Dimensions of Natural Resources

The team of graduate students worked for five months on the project, and tapped into their collective expertise, research and collaborative partnerships at CSU to help formulate their business model. After making it through a selective pre-proposal contest phase, the team competed against five other finalist teams from universities across the nation, and placed as runner-up to Yale University. The team won $10,000 in prize money and received national recognition for their business plan, which they hope to see implemented in the future.

The CSU students’ winning business plan was centered around a business model of Payments for Watersheds Services, or incentivizing stewardship of environmental resources on public and private lands. The plan was designed to address priority watershed areas of concern that communities depend upon for drinking water, flood control, recreational opportunities and other benefits from nature, and advance public-private partnerships in those areas to ensure sustainable watershed health.

“Water quality and water security are critical environmental issues, and we feel them strongly in the West – especially after the historic wildfires this past summer that brought a whole new sense of urgency,” said Esther Duke, who recently completed her master’s degree at CSU focused on payment for ecosystem services. “This contest gave our team the opportunity to work with and learn from experts at CSU who are leading emerging conservation solutions and to apply our graduate research to a business plan that would help solve relevant, real-world challenges.”

Assistant Professor Joshua Goldstein with CSU’s Department of Human Dimensions of Natural Resources along with Associate Professor Tony Cheng with CSU’s Department of Forest & Rangeland Stewardship and director of the Colorado Forest Restoration Institute worked closely with the student team as faculty advisors, and encouraged them to work through challenges using the latest in related data and methodologies. Goldstein, who specializes in the fields of ecosystem services and ecological economics, says there is a growing emphasis on understanding the roles that humans play in natural resource management and how novel approaches like payments for ecosystem services can lead to greater, more cost-effective conservation outcomes.

“Pioneering efforts like this team’s work to create innovative business models for sustainable land stewardship is creating a community of learning that engages students, researchers, land managers and the public, and it is inspiring relevant research and timely solutions to benefit society,” said Goldstein. “This award is a testament to CSU’s investment in its graduate students and commitment to interdisciplinary research, and I am so proud of our students who are taking these important environmental issues to the next level.”

The team’s plan was designed to build off of an existing payment for watershed services initiative, the Colorado Conservation Exchange (CCE), currently supported by the Warner College’s Center for Collaborative Conservation. Professor Goldstein has been driving new research for market-based land stewardship solutions at CSU and teamed up with Cheng on a research project on payments for watershed services in the U.S. West with funding support from the Colorado Agricultural Experiment Station, which was instrumental in laying the research foundation for the graduate students to learn from and build upon.

“Colorado State University is at the forefront of emerging conservation solutions, and our research and pilot programs provided fertile ground for these students to come together and build an innovative business plan,” said Cheng. “Creating opportunities for students to collaborate with professors on real-world research allows them to advance their education and contribute in a meaningful way.”

For more information about the NFF and the Barrett Foundation Prize, visit