UVA, Law School Partner with National Fish and Wildlife Foundation in New Environmental Conservation Program
The University of Virginia and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation have established a unique partnership that will give law and graduate students access to courses and training that will prepare them to tackle some of the biggest conservation problems facing the nation.
The partnership reflects a collaboration among the NFWF, the School of Law and the departments of Environmental Sciences and Biology in the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. The resulting applied conservation science program will assess strategies for preserving biodiversity in threatened habitats, identify knowledge gaps and institutional barriers for more effective solutions, and design programs that take into consideration accelerating climate and environmental change and population growth.
The program will feature summer internships for UVA students at foundation project sites, a new master's degree program in conservation biology, and courses jointly taught by foundation staff and UVA faculty members, including Law School professor Leon Szeptycki.
A nonprofit organization created by Congress in 1984, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation directs public conservation funding to pressing conservation needs and matches these with private funds to protect and restore America's native wildlife species and habitats. It is among the nation's largest conservation organizations; since 1984 it has made 11,000 awards to more than 3,800 organizations, investing more than $2 billion for conservation.
"The opportunity for law students to work with scientists — the students, faculty and NFWF staff that will participate in the partnership — is a new and critically important piece of their training," said Szeptycki, who also leads the Law School's Environmental Law and Conservation Clinic."Lawyers, especially environmental lawyers, work with scientists and scientific materials on an almost-everyday basis, and it is something that is usually left completely out of legal training."
The first jointly taught course on biodiversity conservation science and policy is being offered during the spring 2012 semester. Forty students are enrolled — eight from the Law School and 16 each from the Environmental Sciences and Biology departments. Students will work in multi-disciplinary teams, using six foundation projects as case studies. These projects represent a wide range of conservation challenges, including marine and coastal to grasslands and forest habitats and species whose continued survival is an indicator of ecosystem sustainability.
"The course that will kick off the partnership is just an amazing opportunity for our students," Szeptycki said. "In teaching environmental law, we focus on regulatory regimes that are designed to prevent specific kinds of pollution or other harm from occurring. This seminar, and the work that will follow, will give our students the opportunity to examine how to go about restoring species and their habitats in a strategic and proactive way. This will be a whole different way of thinking about environmental protection for them."
Next summer, 10 UVA students (including up to four law students) will be selected for paid internships at National Fish and Wildlife Foundation project sites, where they will have the opportunity to learn firsthand about the environmental, institutional, economic and social factors associated with conservation practice. For the fall semester, five College of Arts & Sciences students will receive fellowships to address science and policy questions whose answers can strengthen conservation practice and improve conservation outcomes.
Details for the summer internship and fellowship selection process will be announced in early January. The program has been funded for three years, with the possibility of renewal.
"This partnership will be transformative for both institutions," said National Fish and Wildlife Foundation board member Paul Tudor Jones, a 1976 UVA alumnus and major benefactor of the University. "NFWF will now have a world-class research capability to better help preserve America's natural resources, and the University of Virginia will be aiding real-time conservation measures to save our fish, wildlife and fauna for future generations. It is a synergistic marriage that has Mother Nature smiling."
Szeptycki said he was pleased the Law School is participating in the partnership.
"NFWF takes a results-based, practical approach to species and habitat restoration," Szeptycki said. "Our faculty and students will be working with NFWF staff to help identify what approaches actually work on the ground. This type of work is vital to effective conservation and environmental protections."
Claude Gascon, chief science officer and executive vice president at NFWF, said the collaboration will ensure that NFWF has access to the best scientists to focus on the most pressing and important conservation challenges facing the country today.
"The matching of UVA scientists and NFWF conservationists will link conservation science to action in the field and help save the nation's fish and wildlife treasures for generations to come," Gascon said.
Other UVA faculty members involved in the collaboration include environmental sciences professors Howie Epstein, Karen McGlathery, Hank Shugart and Dave Smith. They and their students will work with foundation staff members who specialize in marine, bird and fish conservation, as well as biodiversity monitoring, assessment and conservation.
As the program develops, other faculty members and foundation staff will be added, particularly in economics, the humanities and social sciences, and social psychology.
Adapted from a report by Fariss Samarrai