Over the last 12 years, the Colorado College State of the Rockies Project has engaged the campus, local, and regional communities in meaningful dialogue on issues that affect us all. From wolf conservation to melting alpine glaciers, the Rockies Project provides an objective voice on regional issues. Facilitating collaborative student- faculty research partnerships, as well as encouraging networking with visiting scholars and scientists, the Project engages eight Western states: Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming.

Since its launch in 2004 under the direction of Walt Hecox ’64, the State of the Rockies Project has grown dramatically. Hecox, who retired last year, is now professor emeritus of economics in the Environmental Program at Colorado College. Currently 60 student researchers have passed through the State of the Rockies Project, including Emil Dimantchev ’11. His work focused on the opportunities and threats in the agricultural and recreational sectors of the Rocky Mountain economy. He currently works as a senior CO2 analyst for PointCarbon, a provider of news, analysis, and consulting services for European and global power, gas, and carbon markets.

The Rockies Project “helped me gain an awareness and appreciation for the complexity of managing issues that involve many different stakeholders,” Dimantchev said. “It allowed me to test abstract concepts in a real-world setting, busting the CC bubble wide open and exposing me to views on the front lines of the issues we were discussing  in class.”

Matthew Lee-Ashley, a former State of the Rockies visiting researcher, is now a senior fellow and the director of public lands at Center for American Progress. He recalls that the “State of the Rockies Project was, for me, a major bridge between the classroom and a career.  It was my first chance to find my own voice and my own perspective, and to write for a much broader audience.”

Perhaps more crucially for current and future members of the Rockies family, Lee-Ashley mentions the network of SOTR alums that continues long beyond time at Colorado College. “A true measure of the State of the Rockies Project’s impact is the number of its alums who have devoted their careers to public service and to tackling Western natural resource challenges,” he said.

The 2015-16 cycle includes four more students: Burkett Huey ’16, Maya Williamson ’17, Jonah Seifer ’16, and John Jennings ’16. They will delve into a new focus area for the project, titled “The Scales of Western Water.” Working individually and in teams, along with faculty researchers, they will research, collect, and analyze data from across the Southwest, and compile reports for publication. This research, while valuable in its own right, may also grow to form the basis for the students’ theses or a major independent work. These professional reports also provide information and insight for all users — practitioners, policymakers, and citizens of the West. For example, in 2006 the report Climate Change: Modeling a Warmer Rockies and Assessing the Implications, was cited in a Supreme Court case between Massachusetts and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Huey says that, so far, the Rockies Project has been “an amazing learning experience. I’ve learned so much about the West’s water problems and potential solutions in such a short time. This program has given me wonderful learning resources and great opportunities to do meaningful field research.”

The Rockies Project examines the issue of water in the West using a scaled approach — studying it from droplet to delta, and everything in between. The role of water is extremely complex, particularly in the West. With declining snowpack, less water in the rivers, and a severe drought across Arizona, New Mexico, and California, water issues have never been more critical.

The factors affecting water across the Rocky Mountain West range from economic and social to cultural and biological. The Rockies Project Fellows will investigate these factors to compile new and accurate information and learn from stakeholders on all sides of the issue. Fieldwork takes place across Colorado’s Front Range and in a variety of river basins, with student researchers actively seeking out diverse perspectives to strengthen and deepen the discussion.

At the helm of the Rockies Project are Eric Perramond, associate professor in the Environmental Program and Southwest Studies, and Brendan Boepple ’11. Perramond is a human-environment geographer, as well as a political ecologist, and Boepple’s B.A. from Colorado College was in political science.

“One aspect that cannot be underestimated is Brendan’s continued presence as assistant director,” said Perramond of his colleague. “Brendan ensured that the logistical and experiential transition for students went smoothly as we changed directors, and he’s been a vital and congenial colleague in the process.”

Between the two of them, the future of the Rockies Project as a cross-disciplinary platform looks incredibly bright. Already affiliated with Colorado College’s Innovation Institute, the Rockies Project looks to expand its reputation as well as its range. Perramond hopes that the Rockies Project will grow “less dependent on the time resources of faculty, and develop into something that focuses more on intellectual guidance and professional development for students. We’d like to inject a more critical edge into the work we do.

“The Rockies Project often was viewed as a simple summer research project,” Perramond said. “It’s so much more than that. We want it to be seen as a mechanism for career building and networking, long after a student has left CC.”

Given the ambitious range of study that the Rockies Project is about to embark upon, as well as the assured and passionate guidance of faculty and scholarly mentors, it’s hard to see Perramond’s vision doing anything other than succeeding. That can only be good news, and not just for the college, but also for the Rocky Mountain West as a whole.

Eric Perramond, Director of the State of the Rockies

Led by CC's Brendan Boepple and Eric Perramond, The State of the Rockies aims to encompass issues, such as water rights and shortages,  facing the Rocky Mountain region.

Led by CC’s Brendan Boepple and Eric Perramond (above), The State of the Rockies aims to encompass issues, such as water rights and shortages, facing the Rocky Mountain region.

Appointed the new director of the State of the Rockies Project in May 2014, Eric Perramond is excited about the new focus for the Rockies Project for the coming 2015-16 academic year. A human-environment geographer and political ecologist, the issues of scarcity, access, and justice are all fixed firmly in his sights. That said, the Rockies Project is “less about any specific topic,” but rather “more about getting students curious and involved in a tangible theme that citizens and experts care deeply about,” he said. The SOTR Project also is about “the intellectual experience for the college, and tying what the Rockies Project does into the mission of the liberal arts at CC.”

Joining Colorado College in 2005 was a “no brainer” decision, he said, one made easier by his passion for the Southwest, which he first discovered while at Mary Washington College (’92). Following his master’s at Louisiana State University where he worked on a sustainable agriculture project at Zuni Pueblo in New Mexico, and Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin, where he examined private cattle ranching in northern Mexico, Perramond was determined to bring his work and passion to their natural coalescence — the Southwest, and to Colorado.

During his time here, Perramond says that “CC has changed far more radically than I have!” – particularly with emphasis on the diversity of students he now teaches. “We’re constantly forced to consider how we make our materials relevant and interesting to a constantly growing and changing student body,” he said.

Beyond the classroom and the field, Perramond likes to get outside “as much as possible,” cooking, and all things wine-related.