By Mary Akens
Chair of the Environmental Law Section of California Lawyers Association
On October 19, over 800 registrants including lawyers and future lawyers joined together for the SOLD-OUT 32nd Annual Environmental Law Conference at Yosemite®. The conference brought together lawyers, law students, professors, consultants, engineers, and their families for three days of continuing legal education and fun.
Thursday afternoon, the Executive Committee held its annual meeting prior to the Opening Night Reception.
The Thursday evening Opening Night Reception allowed the Executive Committee to welcome its attendees with food and beverages. Later in the evening, another reception was held for law students and first-time attendees and to celebrate our Diversity and Inclusion Fellows. Everyone was invited to meet, reconnect, and enjoy s’mores and a brown beverage-tasting afterparty in a fun and informal setting. At this reception, we also announced the Clifford Thomas Lee Memorial Fellowship. More information can be found on the ELS website.
Friday morning, local tribal leaders held a tribal opening ceremony. Following the ceremony, the tribal leaders of four of the seven Traditionally Associated Tribes of Yosemite National Park engaged in a moderated discussion of ecological, cultural, and legal issues impacting their communities, and identified ways conference attendees could help tribes redress the legacy of past harms and ongoing deprivations. This plenary session was followed by several concurrent MCLE sessions.
The Environmental Law Conference at Yosemite® is designed to hold MCLE sessions in the mornings and open the afternoons for attendees to connect with nature. Andy Sawyer, Executive Committee Advisor and State Water Board Assistant Chief Counsel, gathered volunteers from the ELS membership to lead afternoon activities within and around the park.
The weather was warm, and the skies were clear, allowing everyone the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors. ELS even had fly fishing, mountain biking, and a dog-friendly hike.
That evening, ELS held a family-friendly BBQ and Bluegrass Night. West 45 played live Bluegrass music while attendees and families enjoyed a BBQ feast, family games, and s’mores.
Saturday morning, we were treated to a plenary session from the Honorable Tani Cantil-Sakauye who spoke about her time as Chief Justice of California and her current role as President and CEO of the Public Policy Institute of California.
Additional MCLE breakout sessions followed until 12:30 and Saturday afternoon included scheduled Outdoor Presentations.
Saturday evening was very special. ELS held a Fireside Chat with the recipient of the annual Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Field of Environmental Law. The award recognizes environmental lawyers who have, among other things, contributed to the field of environmental law over a sustained period, achieved excellence in the practice of environmental law, and provided legal services with high ethics and collegiality. This year’s recipient is Richard M. Frank.
The Fireside Chat was followed by an evening reception and the ELS Saturday Night Dinner Program. At this event, we celebrated and presented the Lifetime Achievement Award to Professor Frank: a unique photograph of Yosemite titled “Heaven and Earth” by California artist Elizabeth Carmel.
The dinner also features a keynote speaker. This year, ELS invited Dr. Tiara Moore of Black in Marine Science (BIMS) to speak. Dr. Moore gave us a moving speech and demonstrated the importance of ocean health and how EVERYBODY should be, and needs to be, part of the solution.
Saturday night also included a Dessert Party with music, dancing, and dessert.
Sunday morning, we were still going strong with a visit from the Honorable Bruce Babbitt and Professor John Leshy presenting on the Federal Endangered Species Act at 50 followed by more breakout MCLE sessions.
This year’s conference was one of our finest. Of course, ELS would not be able to hold a conference of this magnitude without the generous donations from its sponsors, great speakers, a hard-working conference planning committee—Kim Bick, John Carter, Darcy Brown, and Alison Torbitt (pictured below), and of course ELS’s section manager, Pam Amundsen.