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In the Press: Chautauquan Nelson to discuss saving Mexican gray wolves in BTG Brown Bag

Grand Canyon Wolf Recovery Project Director Interviewed. The Chautauquan Daily, August 23, 2011

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Beverly Hazen | Staff Writer

A wildlife program is the feature for the Bird, Tree & Garden Club’s Brown Bag lecture at 12:15 p.m. today at Smith Wilkes Hall. Emily Nelson, program director for the Grand Canyon Wolf Recovery Project, will present “Mexican Wolves of the Southwest.”

Mexican gray wolves are a unique, native wildlife species in the American Southwest, but eradication by predators in the late 1800s and early 1900s nearly caused the wolves to become extinct.

“I will talk about the background of the gray wolves to start with and how they became endangered,” Nelson said. “Late in the ’70s, the government realized they were almost gone.”

Based on the last remaining seven Mexican wolves in the world, a captive breeding program was created to save the wolf. In 1998, they were reintroduced back into the forests of eastern Arizona and western New Mexico. Mexican wolves are considered the most endangered land mammal in North America, with a population that hovers at about 50 or fewer in the wild today.

Since 2008, Nelson has been the program director of the Grand Canyon Wolf Recovery Project, a nonprofit organization based in Flagstaff, Ariz., dedicated to bringing back wolves and restoring ecological health to the Grand Canyon region. She said the role of the wolf directly affects the elk and deer in the area.

“The wolves are often considered keystone, in terms of a bigger [predator],” Nelson said, ”by moving the elk around, keeping them from becoming lazy, and allowing the vegetation to recover.”

Nelson is the daughter of Chautauquans Alan Nelson, who is the former BTG president, and Linda Nelson.

“I grew up as a kid at Chautauqua, and I loved the programs at the BTG, like the Bat Chat,” she said. “I did all the neat things; I just loved animals and loved wildlife.”

As a high school student, she went to The Mountain School of Milton Academy in Vermont, where she lived and worked on an organic farm.

“That solidified my commitment to the environment and working for wildlife,” she said.

Nelson has a bachelor’s degree in biology with emphasis in fish and wildlife management and a master’s degree in biology with an emphasis in wildlife conservation biology from Northern Arizona University. She has worked as a field biological technician, researcher and environmental educator with many species of mammals and birds in Northern Arizona over the past eight years.

Come and see Nelson’s PowerPoint presentation to learn about the current efforts to recover the Mexican wolf and why these efforts are so important.

“A lot of my work focuses on education and work to enhance the survival of the wolf,” Nelson said.

A Q-and-A session will follow her presentation.
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This story was posted on the Chautauquan Daily on August 23, 2011.

Photo credit: Grand Canyon Wolf Recovery Project Program Director Emily Nelson, courtesy of Billie Hughes