The Stegner Center’s Environmental Dispute Resolution (EDR) Program, established in February 2012, has continued its multi-pronged approach to promoting collaboration, mediation, and other dispute resolution processes as a means to address contemporary environmental and natural resource conflicts. Primary funding for the EDR Program comes from a generous five-year grant from the Alternative Visions Fund, a fund of the Chicago Community Trust, supplemented by fees for third party neutral services in specific collaborative processes and other project-specific funding.
The EDR Program staff includes a full-time Executive Director (Michele Straube) and a half-time administrative assistant. In the past year, additional assistance has been provided by the Stegner Center’s Research Fellow, student interns and Environmental Clinic students.
The second class for the Program’s Environmental Conflict Resolution course included law and Environmental Humanities masters students, providing a lively blend of backgrounds and perspectives. The students’ final project in this class is a written conflict assessment, in which the students research and analyze the collaborative potential of a real-life environmental or natural resource conflict. Based on stakeholder interviews and traditional research, the students write a case study analyzing best practices and lessons learned (if a collaborative process has already taken place) or design a future collaborative process. The students’ papers are shared directly with stakeholders. Depending on student and stakeholder willingness, the papers are being “published” on the EDR Program webpage.
In Spring 2015, the Program Director will teach Conflict Management, alternating this course with Environmental Conflict Resolution in future spring semesters. Conflict Management is a skills course addressing the broad range of conflict prevention, conflict management, and dispute resolution strategies available as lawyers and other professionals counsel their clients. The exercises and simulations extend beyond environmental and natural resource conflicts, offering an introduction to collaborative problem-solving to a wider group of students.
Public Education, Research and Analysis
An EDR Blog (www.edrblog.org), coordinated by a COL alum (Kirstin Lindstrom 2011), was launched at the end of March 2014. In five months of bi-weekly posts, the EDR Blog audience has benefited from the wisdom of more than ten guest authors, including politicians, agency officials, EDR practitioners, COL students and EDR Program staff. Some blog entries discuss current controversial issues facing the West and suggest how EDR can be used to resolve them. Some explore and discuss exciting research on the science behind the unique human ability for collaboration and dialogue. Some describe EDR projects in Utah and beyond, pointing out best practices and lessons learned. Most importantly, the blog entries demonstrate that alternative resolution processes work, even in highly contentious environments.
Director Straube has spoken about environmental dispute resolution, collaboration and public participation in multiple venues. The Salt Lake Tribune published an OpEd sponsored by the EDR Program: “Taking a Risk in the Public Lands Debate: Dialogue about What Really Matters” (8/18/14).
The EDR Program has also partnered with other academic institutions on workshops that promote the use of collaboration in addressing difficult environmental and natural resource issues. In February 2014, a workshop on iterative and collaborative NEPA was co-sponsored with the University of Wyoming and Utah State University. Participants included US Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management staff from across the country developing policy and pilot projects that explore innovative and collaborative approaches to NEPA. Later in February, the EDR Program co-sponsored a Utah Sage Grouse Summit, with special focus on the collaborative potential of local working groups (which include private landowners, ranchers, conservation interests and agency staff).
EDR Program staff coordinate the COL’s Green Team, a cross-section of faculty, staff, students and alums working with our architects to encourage sustainable behaviors that complement the LEED-platinum features of the COL building currently under construction. The Green Team has developed law school policy recommendations, hosted two successful Clear The Air Challenge teams, and provided information and reusable drinking containers to encourage the law school community to reduce, reuse and recycle.
Third Party Neutral Services in Specific Collaborative Processes
The EDR Program provides process design, mediation and facilitation services in select cases that have the potential to be precedent-setting or that demonstrate best practices. The Program worked closely with the Environmental Clinic to provide skill-building opportunities for five clinical students in the past year on collaborative processes such as these:
Homeless Issues in Downtown Salt Lake City (the urban environment). Director Straube and four students conducted over 50 confidential interviews with the full range of stakeholder interests involved with and/or affected by homeless issues in downtown SLC, and then synthesized the key issues and opportunities for increased collaboration and coordination. Salt Lake City’s recently issued Homeless Services Strategy incorporates the conceptual framework and approach to key issues outlined in the EDR Program’s Situation Assessment Report.
Escalante River Watershed Partnership. This partnership of federal and state agencies, local elected officials, non-profit organizations and individual landowners celebrated its fifth year anniversary in June 2014. The Program provides facilitation, conflict coaching and process design support to enable the diverse group of stakeholders to work collaboratively to restore, protect and maintain a healthy ecosystem in the Escalante River watershed.
Cross-Watershed Network (XWN). The Program Director is part of the Core Team creating a network of watershed partnerships and practitioners to support collaboration and share best practices for healthy watersheds. XWN will host its second peer-to-peer sharing workshop in Escalante in October 2014, and is developing a website and other more active methods for linking expertise across watersheds.