Law Students Making a Difference for Parks and Nature

CEESP News - by Warren G. Lavey, Adjunct professor, University of Illinois College of Law

At the University of Illinois, the applied environmental law program made a difference for organizations facing a variety of challenges to parks and natural resources.  In 2016, 14 law students helped government, non-profit and other organizations in the U.S. and Central America address real-world issues.  The students provided free legal and policy research, document review, analysis, drafting and counseling, all under a professor's supervision. 

This program is seeking new projects for entities in the U.S. and around the world.


In 2016, 14 law students helped organizations address real-world issues for threatened species, parks, and land and water resources.  The students received knowledge of important environmental issues and areas of law, training in providing legal services, gratification, and professional advancement as well as course credit.  They worked with 2 organizations in Central America and 19 organizations around the U.S.  These nonprofit, government and other entities identified projects, provided guidance and documents, and received free legal research, analysis and recommendations.  A professor supervised the students’ efforts and reviewed their drafts.

By highlighting some of the program’s recent work, we hope to connect with organizations for projects in 2017.

Threatened species.  A Central American government agency was concerned about a gap in managing its marine areas.  Regulations did not restrict the growing sport and subsistence fishing.  In developing a proposal for that government, what models and experiences in U.S. federal and state fishing regulations could be relevant?  Working with a lawyer in that agency, a student analyzed statutes, regulations, programs and outcomes.  He recommended new regulations in that country, and provided a supporting memorandum for that agency.

In the U.S., a Native American tribe planned to reintroduce a threatened fish species in rivers running through and bordering its land reservation.  It was concerned that a state agency would require a water use permit and block its efforts.  With guidance and documents from the tribe’s environmental manager, the law program prepared a memorandum analyzing federal and state statutes, court decisions and treaties pertaining to the tribe’s water rights.  The tribe plans to use this analysis in dealing with state and federal officials and, if necessary, in litigation.

Parks.  A nonprofit organization in Central America was concerned about the slow pace and fairness of a government’s land acquisitions for parks.  A lawyer with that entity pointed to delays and injustices in processes for valuing land parcels and compensating landowners.  A student worked with that lawyer on describing and assessing the applicability to that country of the approaches used in various U.S. federal and state programs.  The student’s report helped the organization recommend reforms.

A U.S. community group opposed a city’s plans to convert a large portion of a riverfront park for luxury apartments.  Through what process and on what basis could it appeal the city’s decision to the state’s Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. National Park Service and a court?  The law program researched statutes and case decisions; reviewed documents; developed an argument pointing to disproportionate impacts on poor, minority and disabled persons (environmental injustice); drafted submissions; and met with agency officials and residents.

Working for a land conservation trust, we provided further assistance for U.S. parks.  Through research on a regulation recently adopted by the U.S. Treasury Department applicable to tax-exempt hospitals, we helped this organization recruit community hospitals to support local parks and trails.  Also, a student analyzed funding mechanisms in states’ laws used to acquire, improve and maintain land for parks; this analysis helped the trust develop proposals for stronger laws in some states.

Two other U.S. land conservation organizations were concerned that mineral extraction activities would disrupt a restored national tallgrass prairie.  To assess and help block this threat, a student wrote a memorandum examining land transfer agreements, statutes and court decisions.

Land and Water Resources.  Students researched and developed recommendations for financing and structuring U.S. state programs to reduce nutrient runoff from farms; strengthening Native Americans’ protections against unlicensed dumping of solid wastes on reservations; limiting airborne arsenic from excavating soils contaminated by herbicides; managing threats to surface and ground waters from perfluorinated chemicals released in manufacturing and other activities; protecting an aquifer against deposits of hazardous wastes in a landfill; and regulating the environmental threats of new chemotherapy drugs.

In conclusion, the University of Illinois’ applied environmental law program has served various organizations protecting parks and natural resources.  We are eager to work with you on new projects.  Please contact me at

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