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Protected Lands of the American West

How do we balance competing demands for our nation’s most precious natural resources?

We will explore the balance between seemingly contradictory goals to leave protected lands unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations and to harness our nation’s natural resources for energy, minerals, and water. 

Inside the Classroom

Class time will be used to study the history of conflict among those who seek to develop strategic mineral and other physical resources on federally protected land and those who seek to conserve these areas as an essential element of our national heritage. With the increasing demand for new energy supplies, this tension has become acute. We will explore the spatial distribution of natural resources in the West, theories behind their conservation management and wise use, and the potential conflict among different stakeholders wishing to extract and/or conserve these resources.

Case studies will address issues of water demand, forestry, fracking, wind development, and mining.  We will consider these issues as project teams representing different perspectives including government, business, conservation, and science.  Case study reports will take the form of scientific reports, legal briefs, and business plans.

Outside the Classroom

Local field trips to mining, forestry, and wind farm sites in Virginia and West Virginia will be used to form initial impressions of the resource challenges confronting responsible stewards of the land. Experiential learning will be emphasized in the class including close coordination through invited lectures, project mentorship, and site visits with community partners actively engaged in the practice of natural resource management.

A fall break trip will visit different types of protected lands along a transect from Las Vegas, Nevada to Los Angeles, California (e.g., Death Valley, Lake Meade Recreation Area, Owens Valley, Sequoia National Park). 

Research and Capstone Project

The five case-study projects in the fall semester will provide experience and practice working with the tools of the natural resources industry. Students will use these tools in the spring to work in collaboration with a community partner to tackle a specific challenge of natural resource stewardship on protected land. To provide a realistic exposure to the demands of decision-making in the natural resource community, projects will be place-based (e.g., Grand Canyon National Park) and will consider more than one management objective (e.g., conservation of an endangered species and permitting of a proposed mining operation).  As part of this process, students will confront a variety of opinions from knowledgeable stakeholders who fundamentally disagree about the future of protected land. Final reports will describe the issue succinctly and prioritize multiple potential actions.

Community partners associated with the spring projects will be treated as resources but also “clients”.  Students will learn to exchange information through efficient two-way interviews with these clients. Final recommendations will be provided as professional reports deliverable to clients after several rounds of internal review. 

View the 2014–15 capstone projects