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Partnership Explores Implementation of Conservation Funding Program in Mississippi

Ginny Lee | February 9, 2022
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Cole Lempke, a 2022 Juris Doctor candidate at Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law completed research in late 2021 to guide the development of a statewide conservation funding program for Mississippi. The experiential learning project allowed him to explore his interest in environmental law and natural resources. He was connected to the opportunity through Northwestern’s Environmental Advocacy Clinic (EAC) course, which paired him with the project and his collaborator, The Nature Conservancy (TNC). TNC is a global environmental nonprofit that works to conserve the lands and water on which all life depends. “It seemed like a really good opportunity before graduating because the EAC has so many partners to team up with and do some good work,” says Lempke.

Cole Lempke headshotLempke’s work consisted of researching best practices of similar conservation funding programs in Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina to determine what benefits their conservation programs provide and to compare and contrast how they are administered. This research required Lempke to review state-specific statutes, state agency websites, and minutes from state program board meetings.

He worked closely with Kellyn Garrison, Senior Campaign Advisor of TNC’s Global Conservation Campaigns team, and Justin Brooks, Director of Government Relations at TNC’s Mississippi Chapter, and fondly recalls their collaborative efforts to facilitate the research process. “The first thing I noticed about them was how passionate they were about their work, which was really exciting because I didn’t know what to expect coming into this and didn’t know exactly what they were going to ask me to do,” says Lempke.

“It was partnering with Mr. Lempke's capacity and talent this semester that allowed us to deliver high-quality research to key coalition partners and legislative leadership in preparation for the 2022 legislative session,” says Garrison, regarding her time working with Lempke. “Furthermore, other surrounding states have been able to use his legal memos in their own outreach to strengthen and expand public conservation investments.”

Lempke also worked under the guidance of Nancy Loeb, clinical professor of law at Northwestern and director of the EAC, who acted as the supervising attorney on this project. She was the guiding force throughout the project in advising Lempke and was instrumental in organizing how his research was communicated to TNC.  “We are thrilled to be able to work with TNC to advance its important efforts and glad that our students’ legal work is making a contribution to what TNC is able to achieve,” Loeb said.

What drew Lempke to this project was his interest in how such programs function at the state level. “In school, a lot of times we focus on national issues or federal programs that are implemented,” says Lempke. “Getting down on that more local level drew me to the project.” He also appreciated the practical aspects of being involved in the project, such as interacting with TNC on a regular basis, managing important deadlines, and translating written research into a verbal presentation format. At the end of the semester, Lempke presented his research findings to representatives from TNC and other conservation nonprofits.

“It was very exciting to work with TNC and see people who really care about their work and being able to be a part of that,” says Lempke. “I’m glad they brought me on board, and I enjoyed my semester with them.”

This partnership between TNC and EAC is a part of the Institute for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern’s (ISEN) initiative to strengthen connections with corporate, civic, academic, and nonprofit partners throughout the university.