Q & A with Michelle White, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance

Michelle White is a staff attorney at the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance where her work focuses on issues in public lands including RS 2477 disputes and litigation arising under the Antiquities Act. She graduated from University of Colorado School of Law, where she interned with the Natural Resources Defense Council and United States Department of the Interior. After school, she worked as the Getches-Wyss Fellow at the Getches-Wilkinson Center, before beginning her current position with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

Ahead of her participation on our panel of professionals for the upcoming student event, Careers in Public Lands and Why They Matter, Michelle shared thoughts on her journey to a public lands career.

Briefly describe your role with SUWA and how it relates to the conservation of public lands.

I’m a staff attorney and spend a majority of my time on more than 20 cases that the state of Utah and its counties filed against the United States that claim over 12,000 rights-of-way over public lands. Due to the volume of claims and uncertainty surround the legal standards, the Utah District Court has created a process that we refer to as “bellwether” litigation that will help clarify legal standards and eventually facilitate settlement of the lawsuits. The right-of-way claims matter specifically to SUWA’s overriding mission to preserve wilderness-quality landscapes in Utah because, by definition, wilderness must be “roadless.” More broadly, roads have a significant impact on conservation because they tend to fragment landscapes, impact cultural resources, and adversely affect wildlife. 

How did your time at GWC or CU Law School play into your career choice?
CU offers a lot of classes that are directly relevant to, and necessary for, public land law. I would not be surprised if it’s the only law school that makes discussion of R.S. 2477 a part of the public land law course (or did when I was a student). There were also a lot of professors who were deeply involved in and passionate about public lands and were also very helpful during my career search.

What life experiences made you want to dedicate your career to your public lands?
Working at Yellowstone.

What advice would you give to law students who are curious about careers in conservation?
Intern or extern in both nonprofits and government positions as much as possible. Consider clerking. Be sure to take admin law. Don’t forget that your 1L classes are relevant.

Are there individuals at CU Law that had an impact or influenced your decision to go into public lands?
Actually, I think they all may have left. Karin Sheldon and Bruce Krammer may still teach.

What is your favorite public land to visit?