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WVU Law students Darcy Delligatti and Darwin Harris

Working in conservation law

In summer 2021, Darcy Delligatti and Darwin Harris worked as legal interns for environmental and wildlife conservation organizations.

Delligatti was a legal intern for the National Wild Turkey Federation, an organization that works to preserve America’s hunting heritage through increasing wild turkey populations, conservation and improving natural habitats for many species of wildlife. 

Under the supervision of NWTF’s Carol Frampton, in-house counsel and Chief of Legal Services, Delligatti conducted legal research for multiple projects including the structuring of non-profit organizations and amendments to state constitutions.

Harris worked at the intersection of nature, law and public interest as a legal intern for the Western Environmental Law Center in Helena, Montana. He spent half the summer working remotely and half the summer working in-person on legal projects related to protecting public lands, including federal oil and gas leasing and the Endangered Species Act. 

The Western Environmental Law Center works to defend wildlands, protect wildlife, and end oil and gas activity on public lands with the goal of safeguarding the climate and protecting the West’s natural and cultural heritage. The organization holds offices in Oregon, Washington, Montana and New Mexico and offers services free of charge to its clients. 

Darcy Delligatti

WVU Law student Darcy Delligatti in SC
Darcy Delligatti at the South Carolina headquarters of the National Wild Turkey Federation. (Photo provided by Darcy Delligatti.)

Why did you want to work with the Wild Turkey Federation?

I grew up in West Virginia, and some of my favorite memories are of times I spent outdoors hunting and fishing with my dad or gardening with my grandfather — times I was simply enjoying this beautiful state I live in.

I have a passion to protect and preserve our land and wildlife, and I am a true believer that hunting is an important component of conservation. For me, hunting involves a deep respect for the land and wildlife and goes beyond simply filling a tag during the season. I joined the National Wild Turkey Federation after I first started turkey hunting a few years ago and I believe in its mission. NWTF is the leader in upland wildlife habitat conservation, and it works to protect and conserve our land and wildlife and to preserve our hunting heritage.

What was the highlight of your experience?

This entire opportunity has been great, but my favorite experience was traveling to NWTF headquarters in Edgefield, South Carolina, and being able to work in-person with the other legal interns and staff. When we had our first in-person staff meeting at headquarters, I remember thinking how surreal it was to be sitting around a table with people who share my passion for hunting and conservation and to talk about issues that I am so invested in.

To be able to combine my passion for hunting and conservation with my legal career is truly incredible. I have learned this summer that the organization is so much more than just a resource for hunters. I have seen concepts covered in my law classes applied in the real world by this organization, and I am able to bring that understanding back with me into the classroom.

How does this kind of work relate to your broader career goals or legal interests?

My biggest takeaway from my time at NWTF the importance of conservation law. Before reaching out to NWTF, I wasn’t aware of conservation law as a legal field. As I learned more about it this summer, I realized that conservation law is unique to other environmental law topics and requires its own subject matter expertise. I believe this is an incredibly important area and would love to see more people educated about it!

Simply put, conservation law is exactly the field I want to work in after I finish law school. I hope to find a position working in conservation law in my home state of West Virginia.

How did you find this opportunity?

As a member of NWTF, I receive a publication every few months. When I received one after I had begun law school, I better understood the organization’s mission of conservation and became curious about their legal department. I sent and email to NWTF expressing my passion for conservation and interest in learning more and Carol Frampton, the organization’s in-house counsel, reached out to me personally. She shared information about being a conservation law attorney and told me about a legal internship opportunity with NWTF. I applied, and here we are!

My position was paid, and it was made possible in part with funds from Multi-State Conservation Grants through the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

What would you tell another law student who is looking to align their legal career with their personal passion?

My advice to fellow law students is to research organizations in any field you are interested in. Reach out! Express your interest. There is no harm in starting a conversation – you have no idea what doors could open.

To be completely honest, I struggled my 1L year - I wasn’t drawn to any of the classes or topics we learned about and felt discouraged. But once I learned more about the opportunities to work in the conservation field after connecting with NWTF, I realized there are many more organizations I can reach out to moving forward that relate to my interest in conservation law.

Darwin Harris

WVU Law student Darwin Harris
Darwin Harris in Helena, Montana. (Photos provided by Darwin Harris.)

How does your work with Western Environmental Law Center relate to your legal interests and career goals?

Upon graduating WVU law, I plan to pursue a career related to environmental planning or city planning.

For me, environmentalism is reflective of how you care about others. It has always been second nature to me to be environmentally conscious. I also grew up in an area where there was heavy pollution and it seemed that no one really cared, given the community was pretty much all Black and low-income. That was a problem to me.

Most people tend to think of addressing hot-button issues like police brutality or discrimination based on appearance when they think of advocating for racial justice. But not many people think immediately about cancer-causing facilities in low-income communities, the types of land to which Black or low-income people are confined, and the drinking water issues in underprivileged areas. I find these topics important because they’re all tied to bigger social justice-related issues.

What was the highlight of your summer?

I was able to help a lawyer in the office prepare for an argument and then watch the argument happen in front of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

I also learned a strong lesson: one will never know it all, but that’s why legal internships and things like reference materials exist — so you can learn from others, research issues and learn as you grow in your career.

What advice do you have for students who want to pursue work/internship opportunities related to environmental topics?

When you actually get into practicing environmental law and parse out issues, you find that the law is pretty straightforward. Once you parse through definitions and break it down, it often boils down to topics and concepts that are similar to what you’ve learned and worked on in your classes.

You don’t have to be an expert to pursue an externship in a certain type of law. In class, I would tell students not to get discouraged by not understanding any specialized or technical words your classmates use or topics they discuss, because most of the time those are just the special interests of that one person. But environmental law consists of a lot of administrative law topics, so definitely take that class seriously if you’re interested in doing an externship in environmental work!

Meet the Students

WVU Law student Darcy Delligatti

Darcy Delligatti is a 3L from Grafton, West Virginia. She graduated in 2015 from Fairmont State University with bachelor’s degrees in Political Science and National Security and Intelligence. Before law school, she worked as a data and intelligence analyst. At WVU Law, Delligatti is secretary of the Environmental Law Society and a member of the Energy Law Association.

WVU Law student Darwin Harris

Darwin Harris is a 3L from East St. Louis, Illinois. He earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Grand Valley State University in 2019. He has interned for Legal Aid of West Virginia and the Texas Office of Capital & Forensic Writs, and he has worked for the City of Pittsburgh. Prior to law school, he worked at the Missouri History Museum in St. Louis. At WVU Law, Harris is the vice president of Black Law Students Association and he is the recipient of W.E.B. DuBois Fellowship.

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