Allegheny National Forest brings natural resources law to life

To the northwest of Penn State Law, the Allegheny National Forest (ANF) spans more than a half million acres and serves as an iconic example of the balancing act of protecting the environment while allowing economic development of its resources. Penn State Law students studying Natural Resources Law with Professor Jamison Colburn were able to experience environmental statutes and laws in action when they spent a Saturday under the tutelage of Jason Nedlo, deputy district ranger, Marienville District of the ANF.

Colburn organized the field trip because he believes it is critical to get out and experience resource use firsthand. “Tradeoffs between societal demands and environmental quality arise in stark terms for people who live in and around resources like the Allegheny National Forest,” he said. “For the rest of us, it is too easy to forget where our wood, paper, oil, gas, stone, and water have to come from.”

Anna Leonenko, who spent last summer interning at the Office of Regulatory Counsel at the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, was among 19 students on the field trip. She cited extensive research that she conducted related to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) as Colburn’s research assistant. “This was really the first time I’ve heard a non-lawyer (Nedlo) talk about the Act. Lawyers can be cynical sometimes so it was refreshing to hear how in his view NEPA has had such a positive impact on enhancement of the environment.”

ANF unique in Forest System

Both Leonenko and Rachel Rivers also study oil and gas law. Rivers, who was a student in the Rural Economic Development Clinic last year, especially appreciated getting a different perspective on drilling in the Marcellus Shale. “We worked on Marcellus Shale leases for property owners in the Clinic,” said Rivers. “The field trip took us to a Marcellus Shale drilling rig in the forest. It was interesting to hear how the Forest Service must allow the mineral rights owners and energy companies access, while at the same time protecting the ecosystem as custodians of the surface rights. You really get a sense of sub-surface rights and ownership issues.” 

The group toured some of ANF’s legal and policy “hot spots” and learned from Nedlo about Forest Service management of tradeoffs like oil/gas development versus roadless/wilderness protections, watershed management versus timber production, and other topics.

“ANF as a whole is unique to the National Forest System in how it was created, the degree of intermixed ownership within the forest today, and for its importance to its home state’s conservation planning,” Colburn emphasized.

Students welcome chance to get outside classroom

“In law school we spend most of our time in classrooms and the library. It’s not often you get outside to see a practical application of everything you are reading about,” said Rivers.

Both students intend to practice environmental law upon completion of their studies. Rivers hopes to work for a nonprofit environmental organization similar to Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide where she interned this summer. Lenovo hopes to work on the corporate side as an in-house compliance officer or a consulting firm.

“It was good to hear that by and large, companies want to do the right thing,” said Leonenko. “There’s a lot at stake, especially for big firms. So it makes good business sense to work in cooperation with nature rather than to do damage."

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Last Updated July 22, 2015