Sunday, June 19, 2011

Following the Middle Road by Laura Bies

Hi, all. My name is Laura Bies. I’m an environmental attorney by training and the Director of Government Affairs and Partnerships with The Wildlife Society, a professional society of wildlife scientists and managers. I have an undergraduate degree in environmental science and graduated from George Washington University Law School, where I concentrated on environmental law. In my current position with The Wildlife Society, I work with our members and leadership to develop the Society’s positions on conservation issues and communicate these to government agencies, legislators, and others.


Going to law school in DC, I had the opportunity to ‘try out’ several environment law jobs through internships at the Department of Energy, the Council on Environmental Quality, the Department of Justice, and the Environmental Protection Agency. After graduation, I took an internship with The Wildlife Society, soon moving on to a permanent position there.


Maybe because of this background, I was surprised when Raff went to work for Sunderland Associates. What about you, did you find this surprising? I think Raff has a good point, that many environmental conflicts can be solved through conflict resolution and following the middle road. However, I think I would have found it very frustrating to be Raff during that first year, putting all my time and effort into supporting an organization he didn’t necessarily believe in or support, hoping that he would be able to use his position sometime in the future to save the Nokobee tract. Do you think you would have been able to stay motivated to go to work every day, not knowing if or when you’d get to accomplish your true goal? Or would you felt like you’d ‘sold out’ by working for ‘the enemy’?

9 comments:

Kate said...

Hello, Laura! It is nice to "meet" you - thank you for joining the Wild Read this week! You raise a really important question. The first thing that came to my mind was the similarity between Raff's situation and that of a federal employee working for a conservation agency during an administration that is not supportive of sound environmental policy. In the case of the latter, however, the federal employee at least knows there is a time limit on the administration and eventually the pendulum will swing. However, the wait can be very challenging.

I like Raff's approach of being a change agent working on the inside. However, to be effective in that kind of role, one must be very patient and able to keep emotions in check. Personally, well...I'm not very patient! I think I would opt for an organization that helps facilitate change through sound science and advocacy. Particularly given that Raff is young at the time he makes his decision - learning how to move the needle of political will, how to campaign - these are very valuable skills to pick up early on in one's career. Maybe he'll be able to facilitate the right kind of compromise - I look forward to seeing how this works out.

Margaret said...

I am quite intrigued that Raff made that choice to work for Sunderland or put another way that Wilson built the story in such a way where Raff had to make compromises working for such a firm. It's a curious turn of events and am still trying to make sense out of it....Wilson endowing the Raff character with a law degree however is boldly significant even if his first job included his "selling" himself (values, passion) short. I do believe Wilson contends that this profession may be better positioned to negotiate the competing interests of developers, Frogman-like folk, tree huggers and ordinary citizens. Laura, I am interested on what you might surmise about Raff's choice of career....?

Laura Bies said...

@ Kate - Good points. My federal internships were during an administration that wasn't always too supportive of conservation, so it was interesting to talk about that with the permanent, long-time employees. I don't have much patience either, I guess, and am glad I ended up at an NGO that works for science-based conservation no matter the politics of the current administration.

@Margaret - I think a law degree is a very useful tool, even if you don't use it to actually practice law - I know that training and experience I gained in law school is invaluable. Especially if you focus on learning how to use tools like negotiation and conflict negotiation, a law degree can be a great choice for those interested in conservation.

Dave said...

I did find Raff's career choice to be a bit of a surprise. Given his strong interest in the natural world, a career in science seemed certain until his uncle's offer to finance law school. What was more surprising, as you've mentioned, Laura, was his choice to work for Sunderland Associates in particular. I think this speaks to Raff's commitment to changing things from the inside - something that requires a lot of courage and a firm committment to one's goals so as not to be pursuaded by the rhetoric that will soon become part of one's regular environs. For me, considering Raff's situation leads to another question: is it easier to change things from the inside - working within the system - or from the outside - working externally? Laura, I would welcome your perspective as one who attended law school in our nation's capitol! I look forward to other readers' thoughts as well.

Cindy Samples said...

I found it intriguing that Raff worked for Sunderland and at the same time sat on the board of the environmental groups. Maybe that's how he could balance working for Sunderland Associates. Spending time with the "perceived" enemy is the best way to make changes.

Jared Burton said...

I found it a surprising also. It might not have happened had he not associated himself the radical eco-group at Harvard. It made him aware of the limitations of that approach to changing things from the "outside".

Laura Bies said...

@Dave - Good question about whether it's easier to change things from the inside or outside. Frankly, I think change can (and does) come from both - what is more successful in any given instance probably depends on the particulars of the situation and the players involved. Maybe in this case, Raff could tell that, knowing Sunderland Assoc, they would be more likely to participate in a compromise that came from inside rather than be pushed into something from the outside. And in other cases, an outside group forcing an entity into what is best for conservation might be a better option...

@Cindy - Yes, I was thinking about Raff's being a attorney for Sunderland by day vs an enviro by night. It would be an interesting balance to strike and probably was how he was able to stay the course at Sunderland, having regular contact with enviro colleagues and thereby being reminded why he was doing what he was doing.

Kate said...

In discussing with a coworker who is reading the book, another angle to this question came up: in the rural south, in the time in which the book is set, it was actually innovative of Sunderland Associates to hire Raff, knowing that he was an environmentalist. Today, this wouldn't be such an uncommon thing as more law firms and idustries are hiring known activits, but for Raff's time, Sunderland made a move that was certainly unusual and maybe even progressive.

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