The Gathering of the Tribe

Last week I wrote about the remarkable Public Interest Law Conference, an annual gathering in Eugene Oregon.  A week later, I am recovered enough to reflect on what was the highlight for me this year: People.

I look forward to the Conference each year; to learning the latest and greatest about how to protect this earth, and those that have no voice - the critters, lands and waters of the West.  But this year, I walked away with a renewed appreciation for those who have devoted their professional lives (and then some) to protecting the commons.  I'd like to tell you, briefly, about a few of them who we at WELC know well.

Mary Wood.  A University of Oregon Law School Professor, a former WELC board member, I first met Mary when I was a first year associate in a big law firm in Seattle and Mary was a summer associate!  Mary was impressive then, but little did I know the unstoppable force of nature she would become.  Mary has developed a brilliant legal theory to save the earth from climate change - advocating that all sovereigns have a duty under the public trust doctrine to protect the atmosphere. Elegant in its simplicity and straighforwardness, the strategy nevertheless poses many practical hurdles for Judges who tend to favor conservative pragmatism over bold action.  Undeterred, Mary  advocates for her theory, and the lives of our children with every breath.  She has attracted a cadre of activists and lawyers who are now advancing her theory across America and across the world. 

Julia Olson.  Julia is a public interest attorney well known within WELC's halls.  Her partner Pete Frost runs our Wildlands program.  Julia is one of those lawyers mentioned who not only embraced Mary Woods strategy but agreed to devote her practice to leading the advocacy efforts as the head of Our Children's Trust.  And in that effort I am proud to say that she enlisted the help of Pete and WELC attorneys Dan Galpern and John Mellgren, and well as former WELC attorney Andrea Rodgers. Julia and her extended team really give meaning to Margaret Mead's statement about the power of a small group of committed individuals.

Kelly Matheson.  I met Kelly when she was a staff attorney with Wyoming Outdoor Council. A University of Oregon Law School classmate of our Climate and Energy Program Director Erik Schlenker-Goodrich, Kelly is a remarkable advocate who, as she says, has her feet in NYC but her heart in the Northern Rockies. Kelly followed her heart to film school in Montana which lead to her current career - video advocacy with a remarkable group - Witness.  Kelly and her colleagues have produced a series of remarkable videos capturing the impacts of climate change on the plaintiffs in some of the public trust state litigation cases being pursued by Our Children's Trust (see them here).   These remarkable pieces show the power of film in advocacy that shows that environmental protection and human rights are one and the same.  Like Mary and Julia, Kelly is blazing new paths in the protection of earth.

Nelson Kanuk, John Thiebes, Alec Loorz. Three of the plaintiffs in the trust litigation, these remarkable young men rocked the audience at PIELC with their stories, passion and commitment to fighting with all their heart for the future of their generation and generations to come.  Words fail.  Watch the videos, then get moving!  Really, I mean it.  Watch the videos, right now!

The Law School Alumni.  In the ten years that I have been at WELC, I have been privileged to get to know many remarkable students who have dedicated themselves to saving the earth.  When I see them on their return pilgrimage to Eugene, and listen to them present their stories of what they are now doing, I must confess to feeling a bit like a proud parent!  To all of you, too many too mention individually,  I applaud you.

The list could go on and on, but this column must stop.  There are days when our task seems too hard, the road too long.  On those days, I will think of these remarkable persons, roll up my sleeves, and carry on.


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Greg's advocacy includes both litigation and non-litigation-based conservation work building on his more than 20 years of experience as an environmental lawyer prosecuting cases to protect forests and endangered species in the Pacific Northwest. From 2002 to 2012, he served as WELC's Executive Director. Greg also taught the Environmental Law Clinic and Hazardous Waste Law at the Univ. of Oregon School of Law for nine years before relocating to Seattle, Washington in 2011. He formerly served as the environmental community representative of the Washington State Forest Practices Appeals Board at the request of Governors Michael Edward Lowery and Gary Locke. Greg graduated from the Univ. of Colorado School of Law. He clerked for the Hon. Sherman G. Finesilver, Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado. You can reach Greg directly at 206-260-1166.

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This blog explores inside information from WELC's smart, dedicated attorneys, scientists and policy experts who have committed their lives to defending the American West. Our experts take their unique knowledge, mix it with long hours of reflection in the saddle of a bicycle, hiking a long & winding trail, paddling a river, or skiing the mountains and share with you their insights and perspectives. We hope you enjoy the results!