VCPC Tackles Wetlands Law and Sea Level Rise

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VCPC Tackles Wetlands Law and Sea Level Rise

Hannah Fish. ©VCPC

Tess Mackey, Virginia Sea Grant Correspondent

Hannah Fish. ©VCPC

Hannah Fish. ©VCPC

Hannah Fish experienced the rewards of an environmental law career during her work with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) last summer. Working for the lobbying arm of the ASPCA, Fish had the opportunity to be at the front end of the policymaking process rather than in litigation about prior policy.

Now, as a student in the Virginia Coastal Policy Clinic, she hopes to connect her passion for animal conservation to coastal policy on wetlands. Wetland habitats have a wide variety of both animal and plant species and provide ecosystem services. However, Virginia stands to lose 50-80% of its tidal wetlands within the next century due to sea level rise, according to Wetlands Watch.

Taking a closer look, Fish will research the connection between the expected sea level rise and the federal wetlands permitting process under section 404 of the Clean Water Act. Her white paper will summarize the current state of wetlands law and determine if the Department of Environmental Quality has the authority to address sea level rise in this process.

The paper will be used by Wetlands Watch, the only statewide grassroots organization dedicated to protecting wetlands that has also been advocating for the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to incorporate sea level rise as a factor in wetlands permitting.

“I’m getting a lot of connections,” says Fish, “and doing research and writing papers is important for a law student.”

Fish is from Arlington, VA, and completed her undergraduate studies at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, NY, where she was a member of the Student Conservation Association. Fish is now a second year law student at the William & Mary Law School and an active member of the Student Environmental and Animal Law Society.