We asked Jessica Owley, UB associate professor of law, to tell us about her work in, and thoughts on sustainability.
What kinds of sustainability related research/projects do you pursue at UB?
My current research focuses on land conservation. Specifically, I have been examining different legal tools for protecting private lands. Are there ways that we can promote sustainability and protect ecosystem health on private lands? Conservationists have been searching for tools that enable long-term land protection without requiring purchase of lands. These tools (types of servitudes in legal parlance) generally purport to be perpetual. I am looking at what happens to these perpetual encumbrances when climate change leads to landscape change. Currently, private land use restrictions are written with today’s landscape in mind. They do not account for changes to the land. My research examines what happens when those changes occur and how conservationists can plan for change in ways that still yield environmental benefits. With a colleague from Albany Law School, I am also spearheading a project called the Environmental Law Collaborative that has gathered legal academics across the United States to discuss how idea and role of sustainability in an age of climate change. The writings from this group are being widely published and discussed and hopefully will push the approaches we take to environmental law and land use planning.
How are students involved in your sustainability work?
Students get involved in my work in two main ways. First, I periodically hold land conservation seminars where students take part in gathering data about climate change and legal institutions. The students use this data for their own research projects – often papers we circulate to conservation organizations. My research team uses the data for our work as well. Second, I always have 2-3 research assistants working with me from both within the law school and from other departments. I always have a place for students interested in doing sustainability work.
What are you doing to help UB become more sustainable?
As a member of the Corps environmental law faculty, I work with my colleagues to ensure that we have a full variety of useful and stimulating environmental law course offerings. I open up all of my classes to graduate students from all departments in an effort to expand our sustainability discussions on campus. I also serve on the SUNY Buffalo Law School Sustainability Team. We are working to make the day to day practices in the law school more sustainable. We are currently working with the UB Sustainability office to audit the law school’s current practices so that we can take the next step and improve our sustainability.