Fort Collins’ sustainability journey: A testament to holistic nature conservation

Fort Collins, Colorado, stands as a beacon of exemplary sustainability efforts, particularly evident in its commitment to Sustainable Development Goal 15 – Life on Land (SDG 15). The City’s journey unfolds through a series of initiatives and projects aimed at addressing biodiversity loss, land degradation, and ecosystem preservation, while also fostering community engagement and advancing indigenous partnerships.

Downtown Flower Project. Photo by the City of Fort Collins

Over the past 30 years, Fort Collins has conserved over 50,000 acres of open space through land purchases and the acquisition of conservation easements. These efforts have included 45 natural areas that are open to the public and 114 miles of trails, providing accessible spaces for people to connect with nature and witness habitat conservation initiatives in action. These natural areas serve as vital sanctuaries where people can immerse themselves in the beauty of nature while appreciating the ongoing conservation work.

“Equitable access to nature is fundamental to community building. The City strives to place parks within a 10-minute walk of every neighborhood, guaranteeing equal access and enhancing the quality of life,” shared the Mayor of Fort Collins, Jeni Arndt, who serves in a global leadership role, bringing the North American perspective to the ICLEI Global Executive Committee.

Cattail Chorus – Natural Area in Fort Collins, Colorado. Photo by the City of Fort Collins.


Highlighting Key Nature Initiatives and Awards

The City manages a stunning urban forest within its urban landscape, prioritizing tree diversity, drought tolerance, and consistent maintenance to promote tree health and longevity, in alignment with the objectives of SDG 15. Efficient water use is another cornerstone of their sustainability efforts, evident in Capital Improvement Plans, Parks, and water-smart landscapes that reduce demand on regional water supply while supporting biodiversity and human access to nature.

Key landmarks such as City Park, City Park 9 and Collindale Golf Courses, and Grandview Cemetery are designated Audubon Cooperative Sanctuaries, demonstrating Fort Collins’ commitment to environmental management practices and bird habitat preservation. Moreover, the City’s Nature in the City program incentivizes private landowners to plant native landscapes, expanding high-quality habitat even in developed areas.

Spring Canyon Park in Fort Collins, Colorado. Photo by the City of Fort Collins.


Furthermore, Fort Collins has been honored with the Bird City USA designation, underscoring its commitment to migratory bird habitat conservation through various best practices such as habitat accessibility and dark skies preservation. Complementing these efforts, the city adopted a comprehensive Nature in the City Strategic Plan in 2015, outlining policies, practices, and outcome goals to ensure Easy Access to Nature, foster High-Quality Natural Spaces, and promote responsible Land Stewardship. Moreover, the City was the first U.S. city to join CitiesWithNature, a unique initiative that recognizes and enhances the value of nature in and around cities across the world.


Fostering Community Engagement for Enhancing Biodiversity

Fort Collins’ dedication to biodiversity preservation extends to engaging local communities, stakeholders, and indigenous groups. Rigorous public engagement programs and partnerships with underserved communities ensure inclusive decision-making processes. The City also emphasizes government-to-government Tribal consultation, acknowledging the historical usage of the land by indigenous tribes and seeking their input in environmental projects and cultural preservation efforts. Established in 2023, the Native Nations Community Advisory Panel comprises of Native American community members, supporting the City’s community engagement and offering cultural insights for environmental education programming.

Indigenous Peoples Day Celebration hosted by the City of Fort Collins. Photo by the City of Fort Collins.

Volunteer engagement plays a vital role in the City of Fort Collins’ sustainability endeavors, with over 10,000 hours contributed annually to natural areas, such as habitat improvement and environmental education. The City’s Nature in the City grant program further supports over 90 community-driven projects promoting native habitat restoration.


Measuring Impact and Next Steps in Nature Conservation

Measuring progress is integral to Fort Collins’ sustainability strategy, with indicators tracking habitat conservation, river health, urban forest management, and light pollution reduction. Partnerships play a crucial role in preserving nature, with collaborations ranging from species recovery programs to regional land conservation efforts.

Transportation Projects Fair hosted by the City of Fort Collins. Photo by the City of Fort Collins.

Looking ahead, Fort Collins continues to prioritize sustainability through initiatives like the Urban Forest Strategic Plan, aimed at promoting a diverse and resilient urban forest. The City’s commitment to achieving ambitious climate goals, advancing resilience, and fostering land stewardship underscores its dedication to creating a sustainable future for generations to come.

Fort Collins’ sustainability journey serves as a model for communities worldwide, showcasing the transformative power of collective action, innovative partnerships, and a steadfast commitment to nature conservation and environmental stewardship.