Natural Resources and Environmental Law
About the Program
Responding to a Changing Environment
New Mexico has a stunning variety of natural features and scenic beauty. Its high mountain ranges are laced with streams that rush to the Rio Grande, which connects the state's northern traditional towns and villages to its Native American pueblos, central urban areas and finally to the vast Chihuahuan desert that borders Mexico. This is a place that is resource-rich, but ecologically fragile. As such, the environmental issues prevalent in New Mexico provide an ideal backdrop for the study of natural resources law and policy on a national scale. The state has 2 million acres governed by Native American tribes, 36 million acres of public land, centuries-old acequia systems and Spanish land grants.
For many years, extractive natural resources, such as timber, hard rock minerals, coal and oil and gas were a major focus in the state, along with the management of scarce water resources. With the growing range of the environmental agenda and the increasing urbanization of the New West, natural resources and environmental lawyers now address a host of other concerns, including communities impacted by environmental burdens, water quality, wildlife protection, sustainable land development, renewable energy and climate change.
Under the guidance of a faculty active in natural resources and environmental law, students are exposed to a rich depth of issues arising from the unique relationships among the state’s 23 Indian tribes and governments of all levels. Tribes struggle, both internally and externally, with how to secure adequate water supplies, maintain their communities and develop their natural resources, such as oil, gas, coal and uranium. Both Native American and Hispanic communities continue to resolve land title and water right claims. A still different set of concerns is raised with nearly one-half of the state’s land in public hands and state and federal water agencies managing reservoirs and river flows. Through the Natural Resources Program, the UNM School of Law strives to prepare students to be leaders who will participate in the key decisions that affect the environment, either as employees within various federal, state, tribal and local agencies who have regulatory authority over natural resources and the environment, or with the private entities and nonprofit organizations that appear before them.
Students can earn a dual graduate degree in law and water resources. Through the university’s water resources program, they can complete an interdisciplinary master’s degree in either the hydro science or policy/management aspect of water resources and combine it with their legal studies. For more information on the option, contact the Director of the Water Resources Program at 505-277-7759.
Some students combine Indian law and natural resources, earning certificates in each specialty.