Unearthing solutions

Professor Jessica Owley.

“If you really want to make a difference in the environment, law is the way to do it.”

Professor Jessica Owley grew up as a city kid. “I didn’t go hiking until I was in college,” she says, “and except for once in Girl Scouts, I never went camping until graduate school.”

Funny how that works: Now she has immersed herself in the law governing environmental issues, land conservation and climate change.

Her passion for the natural world, though, was there all along. And while earning a Ph.D. in environmental science, policy and management, Owley started thinking about how real change happens. “I started asking people who had jobs that made a difference – forestry policy, working with communities on environmental solutions – ‘what training helps you with your job?’ Over and over, people said, ‘Law. If you really want to make a difference in the environment, law is the way to do it.”

So she added a law degree and has become a specialist in land use law, including blogging prolifically on the subject. (“It’s kind of thinking out loud,” she says.) She has also become the first president of the Environmental Law Collaborative, which meets biannually to tackle pressing problems in environmental law.

At the University at Buffalo School of Law, she’s a prime example of interdisciplinary scholarship, exploring exciting frontiers where law meets other fields of study such as engineering and anthropology. “So many of our faculty have Ph.D.s in other disciplines, and they write outside the narrow confines of a typical law review article,” Owley says. “We’re much more collaborative than other schools, and that makes it quite a lovely situation to be in. It’s definitely one of the reasons I’m at Buffalo.”