A cross-campus collaboration at West Virginia University will help the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service research and review its Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program, which has safeguarded millions of acres of productive farm and ranchland into perpetuity.
The NRCS has awarded a $3.4 million grant to the Land Use and Sustainable Development Law Clinic at the WVU College of Law, which will partner with the Energy Land Management program in the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design on the project.
“A grant of this magnitude and scope takes WVU Law’s national service to a new level,” said Amelia Rinehart, dean of the College of Law. “The project ultimately benefits the American people and it provides our students with invaluable work experience in land use law.”
Darrell Donahue, dean of the Davis College, agreed.
“Farmers and ranchers are important environmental stewards. They understand the tremendous value of their lands in producing food and fiber to feed and clothe the world,” Donahue said. “Our collaboration with the College of Law on the project is vital to the agricultural economy of West Virginia and its people, which is fundamental to West Virginia University’s land-grant mission.”
The grant calls for the review all FRPP land easements acquired nationwide from 1992 through 2013. The LUSD Law Clinic will update and analyze FRPP records and report those findings to NRCS. The work includes identifying certain easement terms and any other terms specific to individual properties.
The project will also involve filling data gaps and obtaining documentation for the catalog of FRPP easements. Another key component of the project will be the digitization of easement boundaries. The project will last for five years, with the first year being a pilot.
“This new partnerships between the colleges and with federal agency personnel will provide exciting programmatic and teaching benefits to all students and staff involved,” said Katherine Garvey, director of the LUSD Law Clinic.
The WVU project team includes Garvey; Jason Walls, managing attorney; Staci Thornsbury, staff attorney; Jared Anderson, land use attorney; and Whitney Morgan, land use clinician. Stefanie Hines, a teaching assistant professor of energy land management, will lead mapping efforts.
The project expands the LUSD Law Clinic’s long-standing partnership with the NCRS. For several years, law students and staff in the clinic have worked with the West Virginia office of the NRCS, primarily doing real estate work related to the conservation of properties in the state.
“The law clinic’s work at the West Virginia state NRCS office caught the attention of leadership at the USDA,” Garvey said. “This grant is a huge testament to the reputation of our students and attorneys.”