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AAAS’ Local Science Engagement Network Gets to Work in Colorado

Black Canyon of The Gunnison National Park
Colorado, with its natural beauty, served as host to the Colorado Local Science Engagement Network’s first public event. | TS Schofield/Adobe Stock

Colorado scientists, civic leaders, local and state policymakers and academics are working together to address a range of issues important to the state including renewable energy, the climate and environment, emerging technologies and natural resource management.

The work falls under a multidisciplinary effort launched late last year by the American Association for the Advancement of Science under the umbrella of the AAAS Local Science Engagement Network, which is now putting its initiatives to work in Colorado, Missouri, and recently begun to do so in Georgia.

The objective of AAAS’ Local Science Engagement Network is to bring scientific knowledge to the table to inform local and statewide challenges by building communities of scientists to address and strengthen solutions to emerging policy problems that local and state communities confront.

Dan Barry, director of AAAS’ Local Science Engagement Network, said the program is contributing “relevant and timely science” to policy decisions at the local and state level to ensure “policies are better suited to address challenges related to climate change, sustainability, technology adoption, and natural resource management.”

The Colorado Local Science Engagement Network, known as CO-LSEN, has assembled a growing group of scientists able to be “regularly engaged in identifying opportunities and relationships for bringing science into the policy realm,” said Barry.

CO-LSEN launched its first public outreach event on March 23. Jennie DeMarco hosted the event in the city of Gunnison, home of Western Colorado University, where she is a professor. The virtual event offered participants an opportunity to engage with an array of scientists, policymakers, and academics about how best to forge solutions to resolve today’s challenges.

Moderating the event were Max Boykoff, environmental studies associate professor and the CO-LSEN project lead, and Matt Druckenmiller, a research scientist at the university’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences and the CO-LSEN project co-lead.

The virtual session examined ways Colorado can leverage scientific approaches to develop a clean energy economy, track the state’s climate and environment to guide policy responses and develop technologies that can address such things as the state’s conservation efforts or lagging communications networks.

Eventually, CO-LSEN will document the takeaways from such sessions to produce a series of “Science Notes” reports to be authored by Colorado scientists and made available to the public.

Colorado was selected as an early LSEN location because of its rich scientific capacity drawn from its 17 universities, 38 federal research labs as well as its access to various early-career science policy initiatives well aligned with LSEN’s objective to contribute to climate solutions.

The early-career initiatives include the Forum on Science Ethics and Policy that seeks to expand science leadership teams and the ‘Inside the Greenhouse’ (ITG) project  that leverages alternative storytelling platforms through video, theatre and dance “to connect a wider audience to the deep and pressing need to address climate change,” said Boykoff.

A Colorado state senator, a U.S. Forest Service district ranger and a biology professor at Western Colorado University also addressed the event, sharing unique perspectives and potential contributions to CO-LSEN.

Colorado State Sen. Kerry Donovan, who represents Colorado’s central mountain region and also serves on CO-LSEN’s 12-member advisory panel, applauded the program’s focus on fact-based arguments that combine science and public policy positions. Such an approach, she said, will attract public support, move policy solutions forward and highlight CO-LSEN’s bipartisan nature.

Matt McCombs, a U.S. Forest Service district ranger responsible for the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forest, described how collaborating with different stakeholders, policymakers and science experts introduces innovative approaches to restoring forest conditions and advancing public land management initiatives.

Kevin Alexander, a biology professor at Western Colorado University’s Natural and Environmental Science Department, described how his scientific background led to halting an aerial mosquito spraying effort that was responsible for killing large amounts of insects vital both to the Gunnison River’s fish population and fly-fishing enthusiasts who value the role of the insects.

“This program is a testbed for local science engagement and advocacy,” said Boykoff. “Accordingly, it coordinates and shares information, experiences, and insights with AAAS to inform their ongoing formulation of a nationwide strategy for supporting policy-engaged scientist networks at the state level.”



Anne Q. Hoy

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