Friday, June 7, 2013
Last week, I attended the biannual Natural Resources Law Teachers’ Institute in Flagstaff, Arizona. It was my first time at the conference, and I’ll definitely go again. It’s a great conference—well attended, a welcome focus on teaching as well as (and often in combination with) research, a good field trip, and, with one quickly-corrected exception, not a necktie in sight.
A few things in particular struck me about the conference. In no particular order:Zyg Plater gave a keynote address based on his new book about the snail darter controversy. If you ever have a chance to hear him tell the story, don’t miss it. It’s a fascinating tale even when told by others, but hearing it straight from the source was a true treat.
The Colorado River panel brought some interesting news. The first presentation, from Colorado’s Brad Udall, summarized the future implications of climate change for the basin. It was scary. But two other presentations brought surprising glints of hope. First, Theodore Melis, a scientist from the Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center, explained how the much-maligned adaptive management programs on the Colorado River might be creating some measurable successes. Humpback chub, one of the basin’s many endangered species, seem to be bouncing back, and a new breeding population has been successful established on Havasu Creek. Second, Robert Snow, an attorney from the Department of the Interior, explained how recent U.S.-Mexico negotiations have produced several breakthroughs, including toward cooperative and more efficient use of storage and delivery infrastructure. The recent agreements also include measures to return a little bit of water to what used to be the Colorado River Delta.
Not surprisingly, fracking was the key word of the conference. Fracking also produced the conference’s two most jarring slides. The first, from a presentation by Kalyani Robbins, shows the extent of natural gas exploration in a Pennsylvania state forest. No multiple use here. The second, which appeared in multiple presentations, was this nighttime satellite photo of the United States. What looks like a major new metropolitan area in northwestern North Dakota actually is natural gas flaring above the Bakken Formation.
If fracking was the leading theme of the conference, Joe Feller was its defining personality. The conference took place under tragic circumstances. Joe Feller had taken the lead in selecting a site and initiating the planning. But a few months ago, he was hit by a car while jogging and died. At the conference, we watched a video tribute to Joe, had a few minutes for remembrances, and took a group run in his honor. Individual presentations were peppered with stories about Joe. All of this might sound quite sad, and I suspect for many participants—particularly the many who knew Joe much better than I did—it was. Yet somehow, Joe’s memory seemed also to bring levity to the conference. So many of the stories were funny, and Joe clearly took great joy from his life’s work and play. The shared memories of Joe seemed like a reminder to enjoy having the good fortune to do the work we do, and to get out and explore the places we care most about. That legacy, I think, signifies a life lived well.