Virginia Tech's College of Natural Resources announces the creation of a joint graduate program with the Appalachian School of Law (ASL), an independent institution established in Grundy, Va., in 1994 to help foster economic growth in Southwest Virginia.

“We are pleased to partner with the Appalachian School of Law to develop a much needed program that will benefit both our natural resources students and ASL students,” said Dean Mike Kelly at Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources.

This strategic program was initiated when ASL Dean Clinton Shinn met with Kelly and Robert Bush, associate dean for research and graduate studies in the College of Natural Resources. Michael Mortimer, who directs the college’s Master of Natural Resources Program in the National Capital Region, and the recently retired director David Trauger will teach the first Virginia Tech classes offered to ASL students.

Associate Professor of Law Stewart Harris, who coordinates ASL’s efforts with the joint graduate program, said, “We hope to develop a robust program over the next several years that will become a major part of our focus on natural resources law.” He pointed out that natural resources law will be an area of enormous interest and opportunity over the next few decades, as the United States and the rest of the world grapple with pressing issues of economic growth and energy security within the context of climate change.

The joint graduate certificate program kicked off this semester. Under the cooperative arrangement, ASL students have access to classes offered through the College of Natural Resources' Master of Natural Resources program and students have access to classes at ASL. In addition to online distance learning classes, students are also able to take video broadcast classes onsite at Grundy, Blacksburg, Richmond, or Falls Church. Appalachian School of Law students will have opportunities for externships in the National Capital Region.

In coming semesters, additional courses will be offered through the joint program. For example, visiting assistant professor Jennifer Plyler, a member of the College of Natural Resources faculty at the Falls Church campus, is developing an online course on wildland fire policy that will be offered to ASL and Virginia Tech students. Wildland fire policy is among the most debated issues in Congress, forest communities, conservation organizations, and agencies charged with managing fire.

The program will enable law students who want to incorporate natural resources law, policy, and science into their legal studies to earn a Certificate of Graduate Studies in Natural Resources in addition to their law degree and to earn the Master of Natural Resources degree as well. College of Natural Resources students who are interested in environmental law and public policy will have the opportunity to expand their knowledge by enrolling in the selected ASL courses.

“There are a number of significant elements to this partnership,” Bush pointed out. “It will have a positive impact on rural Virginia, it links our Falls Church and the Grundy programs using new technology, and it incorporates our shared interest in natural resources." He recently met with 46 faculty and students at ASL to talk about the new program.

Southwest Virginia faces many challenging issues because of its abundant natural resources that sometimes conflict with management goals, from forestry and water policies to coal and energy needs. “There are few lawyers out there who know how to deal with the issues we face today,” Harris commented, “so we hope this new program will help to fill that gap.”

Bush noted that subjects such as water rights and global climate change are becoming more problematic, so there will be a need for professionals educated in both law and natural resources to help lead the way in solving such issues.

The Appalachian School of Law is unique among American law schools in its focus on serving the needs of Central Appalachia. As part of that mission, ASL is expanding its emphasis on natural resources law, an area of longstanding importance to the region’s economic development. “We are very pleased to be working with Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources,” Harris said, “which is among the premiere programs of its kind. And, from a personal perspective, I must add that it is a pleasure dealing with my Virginia Tech colleagues, who are truly dedicated professionals.”

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