Laura Backus


Laura Backus (center, in hat) during a post-flood restoration project along a new channel that the 2013 floods cut through a City of Longmont and Boulder County property east of Longmont. Brian Sechler (standing) is an INSTAAR grad student who set up his master's degree study plots as part of this project. The team of tree planters from Wildlands Restoration Volunteers contributed to pre-project planning and provided the project day labor, planting 120 native cottonwoods and willows and more than 5000 wetland plugs.

Project activities

Tim Seastedt, Brian Sechler, and Laura Backus check cottonwood planting holes.

Vrain Creek Peschel Property 2013 flood restoration project:

Technical advisor for a cooperative effort by Brian Sechler, an INSTAAR graduate student with Tim Seastedt, his INSTAAR faculty advisor, Wildlands Restoration Volunteers, and the City of Longmont. Conducted site planning and project day supervision of fifty volunteers to install over 100 native cottonwoods and willows plus over 5000 wetland plugs for Mr. Sechler's master's degree project investigating the use of biochar in post-flood cobble plantings. Technical Advisor of the Year Award, 2014 and 2016.

Monitoring Wildlands Restoration Volunteers projects:

Heil Valley Ranch project: In 2001, erosion matting and cobbles were placed to protect seeded area of road removal.
Heil Valley Ranch project: In 2016, downcutting and boulder deposition from 2013 flood, when flows covered the entire valley floor, were visible. Revegetation was very effective in the old road areas above flood flows.

  • Co-chair of Wildlands Restoration Volunteers’ Monitoring Committee.
  • Developed the WRV Quick Monitor form for project sites dating back to 1999 to qualitatively document project success or failure, unintended consequences, maintenance needed, and important lessons for future projects.
  • Monitored numerous old project sites and mentored new volunteers.
  • In previous years, Technical Advisor for restoration projects at Chico Basin bird habitat restoration, Eldorado Canyon State Park flood restoration, Broomfield Open Space riparian planting, Lyons flood restoration, Table Mountain Mediterranean sage removal, Coal Creek flood restoration.

Erosion control project in Malingua Pamba, Ecuador:

One of the project sites in Ecuador, October 2012, before erosion control measures were implemented. Soil slumps onto the road connecting upper and lower communities were a hazard.
The same site, March 2015. Volunteer native shrubs are adding to the stability of the cobble toe wall. Sigsig grass plantings are stabilizing the lower slope.

  • Participated in Engineers Without Borders water supply and erosion control projects in a Quecha community in the Andes Mountains where farming of steep slopes, livestock grazing, and infrastructure construction has led to substantial loss of valuable organic topsoil in the cloud forest areas.
  • Set a goal of empowering the communities to implement low-cost and sustainable methods of erosion control based on locally-available materials. 
  • Worked with community leaders to select and set up erosion control plantings at high priority sites adjacent to water supply infrastructure and roads.
  • Selected appropriate native plant species and directed “mingas” (community cooperative work groups) and EWB volunteers in project implementation.
  • Documented plant species, and erosion control techniques for use by the community and EWB National.
  • Monitored revegetation progress to confirm plant survival and increase in slope stability.
  • Help facilitate further projects initiated by the community.

Front Range projects for local governments:

  • Riparian inventory and assessment along Boulder County Parks and Open Space Properties along Boulder, Left Hand, and St. Vrain Creeks following 2013 floods. Conducted with Susan Sherrod for Boulder County Parks and Open Space under the 2014 Small Grants Program.
  • Poudre River Downtown Project: Ecologist for a City of Fort Collins Natural Areas Program project to improve ecological conditions in the Cache La Poudre riparian area.  Mapped areas of native trees to remain undisturbed and non-native trees which could be removed.
  • Sterling Natural Area: Wetland scientist for a City of Fort Collins Natural Areas Program to improve ecological conditions in the Cache La Poudre riparian area.
  • Boulder Reservoir Environmental Inventory & Analysis: Ecologist for a City of Boulder Parks and Recreation project to document ecological conditions for site management plan at Boulder Reservoir.  Conducted detailed mapping of vegetation types, evaluated current conditions, and developed management recommendations.

Research Photos & Videos