If powerful chemistry can happen when you take a person’s outdoor passions and set them next to the law, how about taking it a step further and actually getting some court decisions a little dirty? that’s what Professor Jack Tuholske wondered when he decided to lead a group of Vermont Law students into the Montana wilderness.
Tuholske, a Missoula attorney, has represented conservation groups on a host of major cases in Montana. He’s also a veteran backpacker who, when he was younger, worked as a guide at an experiential education camp. He had taught several courses in South Royalton, discussing topics like the National Forest Management Act and the Wilderness Act. Tuholske decided students might better grasp what these laws mean while standing in the middle of a clear-cut forest or a wilderness area. “I just think at some point, you’ve got to kind of put the boots on the ground to make this stuff as real as possible,” he says.
In 2007, he started taking a dozen students on an annual two-week summer course, Montana-style. They shoulder backpacks loaded with tents, clothes, food, and, of course, their homework, and head into the mountains. For several days at a stretch, that is their classroom. they get an intimate look at clear-cuts, logging roads, roadless areas, and forests scorched by fires. they read court decisions by headlamp. they get dirty. As far as Tuholske knows, this is the only law school with a class of this kind.
For Emily Whalen MELP’14, it was the most memorable course. She recalls standing in a forest treated with a controlled fire, and seeing firsthand the difference with a nearby forest. “It’s just interesting to see what it looks like in person versus a picture in a book,” she says. The experience gave her a new direction for where she wants to live. She grew up in Poughkeepsie, New York. She plans to move to Montana in September.