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Public lands include towering mountains, stunning desert vistas, iconic National Parks, culturally rich treasured landscapes, and cascading rivers—public lands also contain vast stores of renewable and fossil energy resources, as well as valuable timber and minerals. Striking the appropriate balance between resource protection and resource development generates some of the most contentious issues facing the West today. The Stegner Center’s Research Fellows Program was established to provide objective legal and policy analysis relating to Western public lands and management of the natural resources they contain.

The scale of these challenges is huge: the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and National Park Service manage almost 335 million acres or over 44-percent of the land within the eleven contiguous Western states. National Park Service units within this region tallied over 36 million visits during 2020, creating jobs and bolstering local economies. Logging, grazing, and mining are also critically important to both the Western economy and way of life, and during 2020, federal public lands generated billions in revenue for the federal treasury — over $2.7 billion of this revenue was disbursed directly back to state and local governments in Western states.

Native Americans have called this landscape home since time immemorial, and Native Americans are involved in critically important questions at the intersection of environmental law, cultural resource stewardship, and public health. Whether advocating for access to water, remediation of lands spoiled by uranium mining, to protect cultural sites, or any of a long list of issues, Tribes often encounter barriers in asserting their legal rights as sovereign governments.

Research & Current Issues


The Research Fellows Program operates at the intersection of these issues, producing scholarship that supports the thoughtful and well-reasoned development and application of environmental laws and policies. We work with second- and third-year law students on some of the most pressing issues facing the West, including:

How the federal government can utilize existing laws and regulations to impose restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions from oil and gas wells operating on federal public lands

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Whether statutes or historic precedent provide legal support for President Trump’s reductions to the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments

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Whether states have a legal basis for demanding that the federal government surrender title to millions of acres of public lands

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Whether the benefits obtained by compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act, which has been called the Magna Carta of U.S. environmental law, are justified by the Act’s substantial compliance costs

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How federal agencies can more efficiently implement the National Environmental Policy Act, enhancing public involvement, improving decision-making, reducing environmental impacts, and minimizing litigation

How to address the challenges Tribes face in achieving water security through federal treaty and trust responsibilities

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How foreign nations can improve legal and institutional performance to more equitably and efficiently manage their natural resources.

How Tribes are utilizing traditional knowledge and indigenous science to respond to climate change

How federal Indian law and policy has impacted public health, fueling the high incidence of COVID-19 among Native Americans, and how Tribes can exercise their sovereign powers to protect their communities

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The Research Fellows Program produces research under contract with various federal agencies, including the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the U.S. State Department. We also depend on gifts and grants from generous supporters. The Stegner Center is solely responsible for the content of our research and the views expressed in our publications do not necessarily represent those of any governmental entity or funder. Donors exercise not substantive or editorial control over our research or recommendations.

Contact Us


John Ruple

Research Professor & Wallace Stegner Center Fellow
 801-230-3380
 john.ruple@law.utah.edu

John Ruple

Research Professor & Wallace Stegner Center Fellow
 801-230-3380
 john.ruple@law.utah.edu
 University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law
   383 S. University Street
Salt Lake City, UT 84112-0730

Heather Tanana

Research Assistant Professor
 801-585-0480
 tananah@law.utah.edu

Heather Tanana

Research Assistant Professor
 801-585-0480
 tananah@law.utah.edu
 University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law
   383 S. University Street
Salt Lake City, UT 84112-0730

MY SJQ STORY


“ I have greatly enjoyed my time working as a research fellow at the Stegner Center. The fellowship program has allowed me to take the more theoretical and abstract knowledge I've acquired in my law school courses and apply it to contemporary environmental and natural resources issues in a hands-on fashion. I think that having this more practical experience working with diverse areas of environmental and natural resources law has played a significant role in my development as an aspiring lawyer and has given me valuable insight into what practicing law after graduation might entail. Additionally, the staff at the Stegner Center have been incredibly helpful and, most importantly, have truly cared about not only my professional development but also my personal wellbeing. Overall, working as a Stegner Center research fellow has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my law school career.”

—Devin Stelter

“ I chose to attend law school so that I can advocate for more sustainable and equitable environmental and natural resources law and policy. More specifically, I chose to attend S. J. Quinney College of Law because of the excellent Environmental and Natural Resources Law program and the opportunity to work for the Stegner Center as a Research Fellow. My fellowship with the Stegner Center has been one of the most valuable experiences of my law school career. Researching unique and emerging environmental issues has positively influenced how I analyze complex legal questions. That, along with mentorship from Stegner Center faculty, has given me a strong foundation for achieving my goals as a future environmental and natural resources attorney.”

—Hanna Larsen

“ I am deeply grateful for my Stegner Center Fellowship experience. It allowed me to work side by side with faculty researching cutting edge environmental and natural resource law issues. The experience reaffirmed my desire to work in the environmental law field and definitely gave me a leg up in landing my dream job with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.”

—Mark Capone

 

Learn more about Stegner Center Research Fellowships

Research Fellowships