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Odum grad does ‘conservation by numbers’

Alex Wright considers himself a conservationist, but not in the traditional sense of the word—you won't ever find this Forest Resources graduate student hugging a tree in the rainforest.

Instead, Alex, a 2012 graduate of the Odum School of Ecology and a graduate student at the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, works with state and federal governments to establish sustainable land-management practices.

“Right now I am working with a collaborative group to formalize the decision making process for natural resource management,” he said. “We believe that data, not politics or personal biases, should drive the decisions we make on a state and federal level, especially when using public funds.”

Alex is currently working with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and scientists from UGA and the Joseph W. Jones Ecological Research Center on an endangered species conservation planning project for the gopher tortoise, a keystone species native to the southeastern United States that is currently a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act. His main goal is to maximize the species persistence of the gopher tortoise, or in Alex’s words, “the opposite of what I am doing would be the extinction of the gopher tortoise.”

Alex is a part of a larger collaborative group that is designing an “adaptive landscape planning decision framework” using funding from the USGS, the U.S. Department of Interior, the Joseph W. Jones Ecological Research Center in Southwest Georgia, the Gopher Tortoise Council and the Southeastern Climate Science Center.

“Right now, we are applying this framework on the state scale, but we are hoping our research will soon be applied to gopher tortoise conservation on the regional level,” Alex said.

Alex is steadily gaining recognition for his work, and has presented his findings at several conferences and symposiums, including the 36th and 37th Annual Gopher Tortoise Council Meetings and the 69th Annual Conference of the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and received the J. Larry Landers Student Research Award from the Gopher Tortoise Council.

Despite all of his recent work with the gopher tortoise, Alex has no plans to be exclusive. 
“For me, research has always been about solving problems,” he said. “I really like wildlife in general. If there is a relevant ecological problem, regardless of species, I can see myself working on it.”

Once he completes his graduate studies with the Warnell School, Alex will continue his work in conservation science with the USGS while pursuing his Ph.D. at Michigan State University.
Alex considers the time he spent with the Odum School of Ecology invaluable to his career.
“Being such a small school in such a large institution, the Odum School fosters a large sense of community,” he said. “The opportunities to interact with faculty and researchers and have effective mentorship were integral to my undergraduate studies.”

Alex also cited the mentorship he received as the reason for his decision to come back to the Odum School of Ecology as a speaker at Parents and Families Day on February 27, 2016.

“I received so much support as an undergraduate at the Odum School. For me, the opportunity to give back, to keep the tradition of strong mentorship going, was a no-brainer.”

Writer: Robert E. Denty
Feb. 25, 2016


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