Law Students Play Key Role in Partnership Between National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, University of Virginia


At a presentation at Morven Farm, first-year law student Andrew Lee explains his research into state water laws and regulations affecting the Klamath Basin that straddles the northern California and southern Oregon border.

May 1, 2012

As part of a new partnership between the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the University of Virginia, six interdisciplinary teams of UVA students — including law students — researched some of the nation's most vexing conservation challenges in recent months and laid the groundwork for potential solutions.

The partnership — which is a collaboration between NFWF, the School of Law and the departments of Environmental Sciences and Biology — includes summer internships for UVA students at NFWF project sites, a new master's degree program in conservation biology, and courses taught jointly by foundation staff and UVA faculty members, including Law School professor Leon Szeptycki. (More)

"It's been an amazing learning experience for the students. It was an amazing learning experience for me," said Szeptycki, who is also director of the Law School's Environmental Law and Conservation Clinic. "This is unlike anything else they do in law school. It's interdisciplinary, it's research and it's focused on real-world problems, working closely with the people who are out there on the front lines."

The partnership's inaugural class wrapped up last week with a conference at UVA's Morven Farm, where the students presented the results of their semester-long research projects, all of which were based on ongoing NFWF conservation initiatives. Chartered by Congress in 1984, the independent organization is one of the nation's largest nonprofit funders for wildlife conservation.

During her presentation at Morven, third-year law student Stacee Karras described how her team explored ways to boost live coral reef systems off the shores of the United States and its territories. As part of the project, the team looked at four regions and determined the biggest threats to the local coral, including overfishing in Puerto Rico and Hawaii, invasive lionfish in the Florida Keys, and a lack of needed predatory species in American Samoa, brought about by years of over-fishing.

The partnership, Karras said, reflects the reality that effective environmental policy must be informed by good science.

"The two — scientists and policymakers — must be able to communicate with one another," she said. "This class forces students in both fields to team up and communicate on real conservation issues. It provides insight into what these types of relationships will be like in the real world. It also gives students the opportunity to make a real impact on the issues NFWF has identified as priority initiatives."

Another team of students researched the threats facing the black-tailed prairie dog, jaguar and pronghorn species in the Sky Island region of southeastern Arizona. The students found that the species require "connectivity" to thrive, but are hindered by barriers, such as construction of the border fence between the United States and Mexico.


Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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