Students take on environmental issues with scholarship help

Carrie Cultra
Carrie Cultra

From endangered species reintroduction to cattle grazing controversies, a new generation of environmental leaders at NAU is tackling environmental challenges of the West.

The Wyss Scholars program has selected Carrie Cultra and Jessica Gist, students pursuing master’s degrees in environmental sciences and policy, as the 2009 Wyss Scholars for conservation of the American West and as part of a new generation of leaders on Western land conservation issues.

“I am honored to receive a fellowship from such a prestigious conservation organization in order to do what I love and expand my knowledge regarding conservation and adaptive management,” Cultra said.

Jessica Gist
Jessica Gist

Cultra’s research focuses on rangeland conservation and integrating social and ecological issues associated with cattle grazing and land stewardship.

Gist said she hopes to use this opportunity to work with the policy and management for the reintroduction of Mexican wolves to the Southwest.

“I have always been passionate about wildlife, but I became particularly interested in all of the policies of wolf reintroduction and why it’s so difficult here in Arizona,” Gist said. “Along the way I’ve learned a lot about endangered species and many different ways it ties into my interests.”

When she first came to Arizona, Gist learned it had been more than 10 years since the first wolf had been reintroduced and about the obstacles of wolf reintroduction.

“I would like to work for a nonprofit, because it will give me the opportunity to work across the board with biology and in the policy and advocacy realm,” Gist said. “I want to use my science background and everything I’ve learned at NAU about policy to bring it all together.”

The Wyss program provides scholarships for master’s degree students pursuing careers in land conservation and management in the Intermountain West.  Both Cultra and Gist will receive about $30,000, with the program paying for half of their tuition and providing a $5,000 summer internship so they can continue their work throughout the year.

“Both Jessica and Carrie are exploring new ways to bridge the divide between sound science and conservation policy, a divide that has grown wider in recent years,” said Tom Sisk, director of the Center for Sustainable Environments graduate programs. “They are up for the challenge.”

For information about the Wyss Scholars Program, visit