Jessica "Jess" Winn '17L

My name is Jessica Winn, and I am a third-year law student at Washington and Lee University’s School of Law. This summer, I was one of the recipients of a fellowship from the A. Paul Knight Memorial Program in Conservation. I spent my summer interning with the senior attorney, who is a W&L undergraduate alumnus, at the Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA) in Portland, Oregon.

ONDA works to conserve and advocate for Oregon’s public lands. In addition to its efforts to support legislation for environmental protection and to involve people in hands-on conservation, ONDA also acts as a “watchdog” for the public agencies that manage Oregon’s public lands.

This summer, I helped with several projects related to enforcing the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service’s compliance with their land management regulations. I researched cases that dealt with Wild and Scenic Rivers for a project about challenging grazing regulations in endangered bull trout habitats. I compiled records of grazing permits granted for allotments that have wilderness characteristics. A large part of my summer was spent recovering and reviewing the thousands of pages in the administrative record for another grazing permit project. I was also able to attend a volunteer trip to the southeastern corner of Oregon, where we removed junipers along the western slopes of the Hart Mountain National Antelope Preserve in order to create habitat and nesting areas for the Greater Western Sage Grouse. I learned a lot about National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) regulations, resource management plans, and the important role ONDA—and other environmental advocacy organizations—play in protecting the environment.

The reality is that environmental law and agency regulations are extremely complex. Individual citizens simply don’t have the time or expertise to be familiar with every nuance of regulations or to track the activities of different land management agencies. They also don’t have the same powerful public voice of advocacy groups. Organizations like ONDA are critical for representing the thousands of people who care about wilderness and conserving our natural places but don’t have the resources or skills to advocate on their own. Although I feel like my work this summer was just a drop in the bucket of the work that needs to be done, I hope that, in the long run, it will make a positive difference.