Citizens learning about native plants generate statewide economic impacts

Shaun Howard is a lead park ranger for the 50,000+ acre Jefferson County Open Space system. In 1997, she was one of the first to sign up for a new Colorado State University Extension educational offering: the Native Plant Master Program. After taking three field courses and completing the required outreach of educational contacts, she became a certified Native Plant Master. Over the years, the knowledge she gained through the program multiplied far beyond her initial training.

Howard is just one of the thousands of Native Plant Master students trained since the program began. Originally started in Jefferson County, the program has expanded to 12 counties statewide.

To earn certification as a Native Plant Master, volunteers must be accepted through an application process, complete three courses and make 60 educational contacts using information learned from the program. Courses are taught on trails in local open space parks and on other public lands. Participants who complete any three courses are awarded a Colorado Flora Certificate.

Every summer for the past 20 years, in meadows and forests throughout Colorado, curious homeowners, land managers, educators and others do what they can to learn more about the native terrain.

The Native Plant Master Program was created to raise awareness about native plants, sustainable landscapes and threats to native ecosystems from invasive weeds.

The economic impact stems from participants’ cost savings from implementing sustainable landscaping practices and invasive weed management on their owned or managed properties. Sustainable landscaping reduces such inputs as water use, pruning, and pest control. Weed control measures improve land productivity including crop output, grazing, landscapes, wildlife and tourism.

“As a park ranger and environmental educator, I have used information from the Native Plant Master courses to help literally thousands of people make personal connections to the plants of Colorado. I’ve personally seen how these connections increase the value people place on the natural world so they become better stewards of our parks and open spaces.” Shaun Howard

The program has found a cost-effective way to increase the sustainability of Colorado’s managed and natural landscapes while reducing invasive weeds. Some of the impacts include:

“A philosopher once said, ‘a pebble was thrown in a pond’ that creates a ripple, which was true for us more than 20 years ago. The program was a beginning of what has had far-reaching impacts.” Barbara Fahey, Jefferson County Extension Agent, and founder of the Native Plant Master educational program.

2017 Colorado Native Plant Master Program Results:

• 1,881 participants in classes offered by the program

• 3,092 hours were contributed by 187 volunteers for a donated value of $74,641

• 15,751 educational contacts made by volunteers and CSU Extension staff

• $33,873 in savings reported by participants due to reduced landscaping inputs and increased land productivity

• 33,507 acres were impacted by sustainable landscaping or alien invasive weed control completed by program participants

• 95,478 web page views on the Colorado Plant Database that contains research-based information on 1,200 plants that occur in the state.

For more information on the Native Plant Master program, contact Barbara Fahey, CSU Extension agent at 303-271-6625 or visit the website by clicking the link below.