To advance healthy and resilient communities through collaborative conservation and restoration.
A future where ecosystems are resilient and communities thrive together.
Coalitions & Collaboratives, Inc. was formed in 2014, but its story actually begins in 1996, the year of the Buffalo Creek fire, in Jefferson County, Colorado. The fire burned 11,700 acres, at that time the largest fire in modern Colorado history. In actuality, that fire wasn’t terribly destructive, as later fires would be, but over the next 18 months, there were 13 floods that were the equivalent of 100+ year floods.
At the same time, the U.S. Forest Service began considering Wild & Scenic Designation on the Upper South Platte River, which also caused concern for Denver Metro area water providers. Based on these issues, the water providers threw money in a kitty to hire a facilitator in 1997, and to begin a dialog with other watershed stakeholders about ways to protect the watershed. This was actually quite novel at the time, as before that the water providers strictly spoke to other stakeholders through attorneys, and during formal regulatory processes; trying to find common ground to protect the resources was uncommon. But the large cohort of stakeholders who came to the table did find some common ground and agreed to form a nonprofit watershed group, Coalition for the Upper South Platte (CUSP), to voluntarily protect the values in the watershed.
In 1998, the new organization received federal grants to hire a coordinator, create a strategic plan, and do a baseline analysis of issues. The board hired Carol Ekarius.
In 2000 the Hi Meadow fire burned, and then in 2002, the Hayman (at 137,000 acres) burned in the watershed. These fires led CUSP to become one of the country’s foremost nonprofits working on forest health and post-fire recovery in the West, but CUSP also worked on a wide variety of other projects, ranging from environmental education to invasive weeds, and recreation to river restoration. CUSP developed programs that allowed efficient management of resources, and the capacity to engage thousands of volunteers per year. As CUSP grew and became a nationally recognized leader in the field, groups outside the watershed would call on CUSP for assistance and input. It was these regular calls for help that led the CUSP board and management team to launch COCO in 2014—after about a year of research, thought, and planning.
COCO uses the expertise gained from CUSP programs to mentor, empower, and engage local conservation organizations across the state and nationally. Local collaborative organizations have a vested interest in local place: no one has more to lose than the locals. The success of COCO comes from our philosophy that to efficiently help a place, we know we must close our mouths and open our ears; we must strive to understand what drives people, what they care about, and what concerns them. We must “shut up and listen.” It takes the commitment of local people to strive for a better future. It is local citizens—from volunteer firefighters, to business owners, to students, to residents and local leaders—who are the most important assets in any conservation strategy.
In 2016–2017, with support from the Forest Service, COCO developed a Cohesive Strategy Program. The program provided resources to several organizations and helped them hire local specialists in high-risk areas of Colorado. Based on years of experience from CUSP, COCO acted as a conduit for Federal funding to facilitate the growth of mitigation programs in high-risk areas. For example, COCO helped the town of Leadville, CO, find funding and mentorship for hiring a wildfire mitigation specialist; similarly, funding allowed the Coalition for the Poudre River Watershed to hire a forester; and funding enabled a newly formed statewide fire adaptation group, Fire Adapted Colorado, to hire a part-time coordinator.
As COCO continues to grow, we aim to support place-based groups, completing natural conservation work. We bring expertise, resources, and funding to support the growth of newly forming groups that follow transparent and collaborative processes to protect our environment, communities, and economic interests.