As I write this, I'm sitting at a table in my house in Juneau looking out the window at the spruce and hemlock forest covering the nearby mountains. It's early in the morning and, in just a few minutes, I've already seen three bald eagles float by. A flock of ducks—too far away to identify easily—rises from the saltwater wetlands along the Gastineau Channel below the house. Taking the dog for a walk earlier, we both noticed the sign that a black bear had visited our yard last night. It's the solstice, the longest day of the year. The sun has been up longer than I have, but as on many Juneau days, it's obscured by the clouds hanging on to the ridges. Soon, nearby Salmon Creek will begin to fill with spawning fish and we'll see many more eagles as they come to feast. Sitting here, and taking just a few minutes out of an otherwise busy week to think for a bit about why I'm here in Alaska, doing what I do, I am struck again by a feeling of wonder for this place and gratitude that I get to spend my days trying to protect it.
My work with Earthjustice began almost twenty years ago, when, after my third year in law school, I spent a few months at what was then the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund office in Washington, D.C. (The Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund became Earthjustice in 1971.) I had gone to law school after studying biology in college, intent on finding a way to work for the protection of the natural world. My early years hiking in the Wind River Range in Wyoming or canoeing in the Boundary Waters in Minnesota closer to my home taught me to love wild places and wildlife. My years in college helped me appreciate the complexity and sensitivity of the natural world. A few weeks with the lawyers in D.C. persuaded me I'd found the place to be an advocate for the environment, and after a year clerking for a federal judge, I wrangled a job in the D.C. office.
In Washington, I worked mostly on forest and endangered species protection in places like the Hoosier National Forest in Indiana and for wildlife like the endangered red cockaded woodpecker in Louisiana. I learned a great deal about being a lawyer, protected a few places, and had the chance to work with committed activists in many different communities east of the Mississippi.
Then my life and work changed in big ways in 1988 when I got married and moved to Alaska, filling a vacant spot in our Alaska office. Washington and Juneau are both capitols and both have more than their fair share of lawyers, but otherwise Alaska was a brand new world.
Working in Juneau, first as a staff attorney and now as managing attorney, has been the fulfillment of my early visions. This has been a wonderful spot to work and live and raise a family. The vast wild lands and spectacular wildlife of Alaska are a strong source of inspiration for the oftentimes difficult challenges of litigation. I have had the privilege of helping to protect the old growth rain forests of the Tongass and Chugach National Forests in coastal Alaska, and with it wildlife, like brown bears and wolves, so rarely seen in other parts of the world. I've worked to safeguard the fragile habitat of the Arctic from oil and gas drilling, protect the threatened ecosystem of the North Pacific from the impacts of industrial trawl fishing, and halt the pollution of Alaska's rivers and wetlands from bad mining practices. If I have a regret, it is only that I have not been as faithful to Ed Abbey's advice as I should have, instead spending too much time in the office and not enough in the wilderness for which we fight.
Though with our clients we have made lots of progress in the fourteen years I've been here, we find ourselves in the midst of a full-scale assault on Alaska from the new administration in Washington. This is a time when the nation's environmental laws and our ability to enforce them in the courts are particularly important. I am lucky to work with a group of capable and committed lawyers and staff in Juneau (who, of course, do most of the work around here). Together, and with your support, we will do our best to protect this great land.
Eric Jorgensen graduated from Harvard College with a degree in biology and then taught middle school science. He attended the University of Virginia Law School, where he was on the staff of the Virginia Law Review and was awarded Order of the Coif. He was a law clerk for Chief Judge James Browning of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco and joined Earthjustice in 1984. His practice has covered a wide range of issues, including forests and public lands management, endangered species protection, water pollution and mining, and fisheries and ocean protection. Among his publications is The Poisoned Well, New Strategies for Groundwater Protection (Island Press, 1989), which he edited for the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund.