wildlife commissioner strives to listen to all voices | Colorado Arts and Sciences Magazine

CU Boulder conservationist Karen Bailey, who sits on the Colorado Parks & Wildlife Commission, aims to listen to predator advocates as well as ranchers and farmers.


Born and raised in Los Angeles, Karen Bailey always felt a connection to both urban environments and the ocean.

“But in an urban setting, I haven’t been exposed to career opportunities in environmental spaces,” says Bailey, assistant professor of environmental studies and member of the Wellbeing, Environment, Livelihoods and Sustainability Group at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

It wasn’t until a 10th grade trip to Teton Science Schools in Wyoming that she realized it was possible to make a career out of “doing science outside and interacting with and understanding wildlife.

During this time she also studied at the Smithson Tropical Research Institute in Panama and did fieldwork on the legendary “short grunionof Southern California, where people gathered to watch fish mating on sandy beaches.

Karen Bailey

At the top of the page: CU Boulder ecologist Karen Bailey, center, focuses on solving problems in the human environment through her research. Above: Last year, Governor Jared Polis appointed Assistant Professor Bailey to the Colorado Parks & Wildlife Commission for a four-year term.

“The fish are coming up onto the beach, and it’s a great community science opportunity,” she says. “I loved doing research outdoors and involving people in environmental spaces.”

Years later, Bailey’s lifelong interest in human-environment interactions was one of the reasons Governor Jared Polis nominated her for a four-year term on the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission in 2021.

The commission “is responsible for perpetuating the state’s wildlife resources, providing a quality state park system, and providing enjoyable and sustainable outdoor recreation opportunities that educate and inspire current and future generations to serve as active stewards of Colorado’s natural resources”.

“We provide guidance on regulations for Colorado parks and wildlife,” she says. “Our work also ranges from things seen as more mundane” — such as state park hours and swimming regulations — to more controversial issues such as predator management and law enforcement. restoration of wolves recently approved by voters.

After graduating from high school, Bailey earned a BA in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from Princeton University and an MS in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation from the University of Florida.

In high school, she learned by observing two veterinarians that she was not interested in this profession. And as an undergrad, she took part in lab research that involved “tying sparrows and finches to foam blocks,” and knew that wasn’t for her either.

“I always tell my students that it’s important to know what you don’t like as well as what you like,” she says.

At the University of Florida, she began doing traditional ecological research and fieldwork in Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) in southern Africa. Watching how one of the worst droughts in the country’s history affected human populations catalyzed “a big shift in my career trajectory,” says Bailey.

“I saw the intersection between negative environmental outcomes and social justice outcomes, how the interaction and breakdown of these same systems led to the oppression and marginalization of different groups,” she says. .

She learned to do social science and interdisciplinary research and eventually earned a doctorate in interdisciplinary ecology from the University of Florida. At CU Boulder, she has taught introductory environmental science courses, where she gives “a broad overview of all things environmental – waste management, biodiversity, climate, energy, human-environment interactions in sub-Saharan Africa, conflict management and collaboration”.

I always tell my students that it’s important to know what you don’t like as well as what you like.

A friend from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission first suggested she apply to the Parks & Wildlife Commission, recognizing her interest in solving human and environmental issues. She was surprised and flattered when she received a letter from Polis’ office encouraging her to apply.

“My work now focuses on how humans interact with the environment. Resilience and coexistence between humans and wildlife are probably part of the reason I was nominated,” she says. “I also have a broader interest in justice, equity, diversity and inclusion in the fields of STEM and natural resources.”

Although her urban background and research may seem remote from the issues addressed by the commission, Bailey is deeply interested in ensuring that all voices are heard.

“I am happy to work with the Keystone Policy Center and other voices for wolf restoration, but I also want to hear the voices of those who are most likely to be affected and influenced,” such as ranchers and farmers, she says. “My agenda, if I have one, is really about understanding and supporting fair and transparent processes.”

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