Environmental Law Society Takes to the High Seas to See How Laws Affect Local National Parks

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Students kayaking at Biscayne National Park

Last week, folks from the Environmental Law Society at the University of Miami School of Law went kayaking in Biscayne National Park. It wasn’t just a fun jaunt, but also highly educational. The students met with experts to discuss and see first-hand challenges and environmental success stories in the park.

Third year law student Kelly Cox, who focused on policy issues at the Environmental Defense Fund prior to law school, organized and led the excursion. She is president of the ELS.

"The outdoors have always been a passion of mine and it was so great to have the opportunity to share that with my peers,” Cox said. “Biscayne Bay really is in our backyard. It is part of the cultural and environmental heritage of Miami and it was really a treat to introduce law students to the Bay for the first time."

“A Look at Federal Agency Decision-Making” was the overarching theme for the outing. The students met with Biscayne National Park Superintendent Brian Carlstrom about the Park's recently approved General Management Plan and the creation of the new Marine Reserve Zone. Carlstrom walked students through the agency decision-making process for this plan by explaining how National Parks are guided by enabling legislation and public input.

Jack Korte, 3LStudents also heard from Fish and Wildlife Biologist Dr. Vanessa McDonough who spoke about the Park's Fishery Management Plan. Dr. McDonough explained the grave condition of the reefs at Biscayne National Park. She explained the rule-making procedures for the park and the proposed new rules such as the phasing out commercial fishing within park boundaries.

Joining the discussion was Park Ecologist Sarah Bellmund of the National Park Service who voiced her apprehensions on the proposed new nuclear reactors at Turkey Point Nuclear Power Plant – the only nuclear power plant in the country that sits squarely on the boundary of a national park. Bellmund spoke about both safety and environmental concerns, including the uncertainty of impacts on the resources of Biscayne National Park.

"It was great to get out of the classroom and learn about the law related to such a nearby and beautiful National Park," said 3L Joey Feldman.

After hearing from the park scientists and superintendent, students were able to see the park first hand through a Ranger-led paddle.

"I'm interested in environmental law and this was a great opportunity to learn some of the ways laws are being implemented in our local national parks,” said 2L Emily Balter. “The field trip was also a great first kayaking experience!"

The paddle was a first time experience for over a quarter of the students and the first time visiting Biscayne National Park for nearly all the participants.

"This was my first time in a National Park," said Jack Korte, 3L, "Places like this remind me of how great Miami can be."

Cox also worked at the U.S. Forest Service where her forestry and watershed research was used to advise the North Carolina General Assembly on Best Management Practices legislation. Cox is a joint JD/MPS student, studying Marine Affairs and Policy at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science while earning her law degree. Since arriving at Miami Law, Cox has worked with the Florida Department of Transportation on land use legal issues and the Everglades Law Center on water quality and energy concerns. She conducts research for the Center for Ethics and Public Service on local environmental justice issues and has contributed pro bono legal research to Miami-Dade Reef Guard.

"My work this summer as a HOPE Fellow with the City of Miami introduced me to the myriad of issues surrounding Turkey Point Nuclear Power Plant. As we kayaked, students were able to see just how close Turkey Point is to the National Park boundary,” Cox said. “I think it was a great learning moment for environmental law in action and it reminded students, and myself, why it is so important to be engaged in these legal issues."