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God’s Courthouse

By October 26, 2006News & Features
Photo of Eric Jorgensen by Hugh Williams.

It’s early afternoon on the Friday before Labor Day. But Juneau, Alaska, is not the place for that last long weekend of warm-weather fun. The city sits in a temperate rainforest. And this has been about the rainiest summer the locals can recall.

Ask anybody: Andy, a bartender at the Timberline Bar and Grill atop Mount Roberts overlooking the city; Steve, the captain of the Adventure Bound Alaska ships that run the popular cruise to Sawyer Glacier; or Jaye, who manages one of the local bed & breakfasts. They’ll all say the same thing: “This has been one rainy summer.”

Heading north from my B&B on the western edge of Juneau’s historical downtown, the rain comes down in sheets and across in gusts of wind. I initially miss the offices of Earthjustice, which are located in a converted two-story house on a quiet street just a few blocks off Main.

Inside it’s warm and cozy. Six lawyers and three support staff work here full time, and law school clerks pop in seasonally. They are at capacity. One of the younger attorneys, Kate Glover, works at a desk in the type of basement corner where parents tend to store unused toys.

That’s what happens when law firms are busy, and Earthjustice is most certainly busy. The organization’s slogan — “Because the earth needs a good lawyer” — might as well be “Because the earth needs lots of good lawyers.” Based in Oakland, Calif., Earthjustice also has offices in Bozeman, Mont.; Denver; Honolulu; Seattle; Tallahassee, Fla.; and Washington, D.C.

Regular clients include national powers like Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society and Natural Resources Defense Council, as well as local conservation groups, native tribes and citizens.

The conflict between the environment and business interests is historical, timeless and inevitable, in Alaska and elsewhere. But the battle has escalated here because of the Bush administration’s efforts to open more and more of Alaska to development, particularly for the timber and oil industries — controversies that are raging not only in the courts, but also in Congress and in opinion pages across the country.

This is the frontline of the environmental war.

“We have certainly been a little busier since Bush came into office,” says Tom Waldo, one of the senior attorneys at the Juneau office.

Waldo is talking to me about some of the summer’s biggest cases before I go on an afternoon hike with the office leader, managing attorney Eric Jorgensen, who came to the Juneau branch in 1988 and has run its affairs since 1990. Managing Earthjustice’s docket does not allow for many free days; Jorgensen and I spent much time over the phone and e-mail figuring out when he could devote part of an afternoon or evening to the outdoors.

Waldo and I are sitting in a conference room lined with an unlit fireplace and bookcases of law books, untouched for years in the age of Internet research. Outside the window you can see the street corner where Robert Stroud, famously known as the Birdman of Alcatraz, killed a bartender for failing to pay a prostitute for whom Stroud pimped. The crime sent him to the island prison.

Seeing the lands and waters he loves under assault is a bit depressing, Waldo says. In our brief conversation, however, he conveys a simple truth: For an environmental lawyer, this is about as close as you can get to a dream job. It’s a living that blends professional and personal pleasures while skirting the notion that you have to live in the big city to do the most interesting cases. Juneau has a population of 30,000.

“I like being able to live in a small city like this and at the same time also be able to do important, cutting-edge legal work,” Waldo says. “A lot of times, that’s a pretty hard combination to find.”

And, he adds, there’s always a ready solution for dealing with the stress, one you can’t easily find in the urban metropolis: “Sometimes you just have to forget about the work, forget about the issues and the controversies and just go out there and enjoy the wilderness and the wildlife.”

That’s exactly what Jorgensen and I have in mind. Tall and thin with a quiet and friendly voice, Jorgensen comes across as unusually mellow and relaxed for a litigator with a slew of big cases hanging over his head. Or maybe he’s just exhausted.

Our earlier exchanges had raised the possibility of a long hike or even a kayaking trip. But yesterday’s settlement negotiations with U.S. government lawyers stretched until 1:30 a.m. in the nearby federal building.

“Maybe we’ll go on a shorter hike,” he suggests as we get ready to leave.

Earthjustice, on behalf of several clients including Natural Resources Defense Council and Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, is suing the U.S. Forest Service over revisions to its management plan for the Tongass National Forest that would allow logging in previously roadless areas.

With 17 million acres the Tongass takes up a good chunk of Southeast Alaska, where Juneau is located, and holds the largest temperate rainforest in the world. It’s also the biggest national forest in the United States.

Earthjustice claims in the 2003 suit that the plan is invalid because the Forest Service erroneously doubled the estimated demand for Tongass timber, which would be logged by private companies. The Forest Service admitted its mistake but said that the error did not affect how much of the Tongass should be open for logging.

Though a lower court sided with the government, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in an August 2005 opinion written by Judge Ronald Gould agreed with Earthjustice that the Forest Service’s miscalculation over timber demands “fatally infected its balance of economic and environmental considerations.”

The panel sent the matter back to the district court in Anchorage, where it is pending before U.S. District Judge James Singleton. Earthjustice and Justice Department civil lawyers are trying to settle the case while the Forest Service comes up with a new plan for timber sales. By early this morning, the parties could not reach an agreement.

There was little time for sleep. Today Jorgensen has to finish written arguments for two clients, the Alaska Marine Conservation Council and Oceana, who are intervening on the side of the federal government in a lawsuit filed by the Legacy Fishing Company and the Fishing Company of Alaska. The companies are challenging “bycatch” regulations implemented by the National Marine Fisheries Service to limit the amount of fish unintentionally caught and discarded in fishing operations — regulations favored by the environmental groups.

Before the end of the week, Jorgensen has to finish written arguments for the summary-judgment phase of the dispute, which is taking place in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

With the brief on its way, he’s happy to spend the rest of the afternoon outside, even with his fatigue pouring down alongside the rain. After all, Jorgensen spends most of his life protecting the environment, but he

doesn’t always get to enjoy it.

“I guess that’s the irony of my time here,” he says with a smile.

Juneau is only accessible by plane or boat. It rests on the Gastineau Channel, where the giant cruise ships pull in each summer day. Tourists shop in the downtown area and eat at the seafood restaurants on the water; salmon and halibut are big here. Some will enjoy a pint at the Red Dog Saloon, a historical drinking hole with swinging doors and sawdust on the floor. Most tourists who spend the day will take a tour bus up to Mendenhall Glacier, which is just 13 miles from downtown.

That’s where Jorgensen is taking us in his red Ford pick-up truck. We head north from downtown, with the channel on our left. Across the water is Douglas Island. Jorgensen proposed a hike there. He loves hiking under the immense, old-growth trees that shield you from the rain, with abundant opportunities to see both land and marine wildlife. But sensing my interest in seeing a glacier for the first time, he opts for the hike by Mendenhall.

The tall trees of the Tongass and the coastal mountains dominate the region’s topography. Protecting the rainforest and its wildlife from logging and mining has been a pillar of Earthjustice legal work here since the Juneau office opened in 1978. The Tongass forest and its waters are home to thousands of species of plants, fish, animals and birds, including bears, wolves, eagles, whales and sea lions. The 9th Circuit’s decision last summer invalidating the Forest Service’s plans for managing timber sales was an important victory in the decades-long struggle.

This summer has brought other victories, at least temporary ones, for Earthjustice and its clients. The 9th Circuit issued an injunction on Aug. 24 preventing the Kensington Gold Mine, which operates about 45 miles north of Juneau, from dumping its waste, known as mine tailings, into a nearby 20-acre body of water called the Lower Slate Lake.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a permit allowing the mine to dump millions of tons of tailings into the lake, but Earthjustice challenged the permit on behalf of Sierra Club and other clients. They allege that the plan, which would kill most of the aquatic life in the lake, violates the Clean Water Act of 1972 and waste-dumping standards established by the Environmental Protection Agency in the early 1980s. Coeur Alaska Inc., which runs the mine and has intervened in the case as a defendant, says in court papers that the disposal process would not leave an “adverse environmental footprint” because fish and aquatic wildlife can be reestablished in the lake.

The 9th Circuit enjoined the dumping while it studies the legality of the plan. Waldo says that losing the case would set a dangerous precedent because it might embolden other mine operators to use lakes or streams for disposal sites.

No Earthjustice issue gets more attention these days than the battle over oil and gas drilling in the Arctic region of the northern part of the state, called the North Slope. Most of the public debate over the past 25 years has focused on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, or ANWR, in the eastern part of the state. So far ANWR has remained closed to drilling. Last December, the U.S. Senate rejected an oil-development provision that was attached to a massive defense appropriations bill. The vote was a major defeat for the veteran Republican senator from Alaska, Ted Stevens, who has long supported ANWR oil development.

The National Petroleum Reserve—Alaska, or NPRA, is another story. It is unprotected federal land, and the Bush administration has been opening up parts of the 23.5-million acre region of the Western Arctic to oil and gas development. Several parts of the reserve are designated as “special areas” due to sensitive wildlife and subsistence activities of local populations, requiring the government to give greater consideration to the environmental consequences of any proposed oil and gas exploration.

The litigation hotspot of the moment is a 4.5-million acre slice that includes the Teshekpuk Lake region, one of the designated special areas. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management opened the area for an oil-development lease sale scheduled for Sept. 27 of this year. The National Audubon Society, Alaska Wilderness League, Sierra Club and others are suing to block the lease sale, claiming the development will harm wildlife in the region. The Teshekpuk Lake area is particularly important to caribou and migratory birds. (Four weeks after my visit, Judge Singleton sided with the plaintiffs and blocked the federal government from leasing the Teshekpuk Lake area.)

During these last days of the rainy summer, Earthjustice’s reach from the small house in downtown Juneau is evident in all parts of the state. Jorgensen summed it up as we drove in the rain: “from the Tongass National Forest here in the South, to the Arctic in the far north and off the shore in the North Pacific Ocean, and a number of wildlife and pollution issues in between.”

Before we take the road up to the glacier, Jorgensen makes a quick stop at his house, located in a quiet residential area just a few miles north of downtown. Because of the late night settlement session with federal lawyers and the brief in the “bycatch” case, he didn’t get a chance to prepare for the hike.

The left side of the garage stores a mix of boots, pants and jackets — outdoor gear of the Jorgensen family, which includes his wife, Amy, and their two teenage children. Jorgensen puts on rain pants, waterproof boots and a fleece jacket to go under his raincoat. I borrow a pair of rain pants to go over my jeans but decline the rubber boots, naively believing that waterproofing my shoes (which I did the day before) would keep my feet dry.

Mendenhall Glacier is a striking sight, immediately visible when you arrive at the visitor’s center run by the Forest Service. The face of the glacier, which has a blue tint to it, stretches about a mile and a half wide on the far side of Mendenhall Lake. An employee of the visitor’s center greets us as we walk away from the truck.

She has known Jorgensen for many years, and she talks to me for several minutes about him. She doesn’t want to be quoted because her employer happens to be a regular litigant in Earthjustice cases. Suffice it to say, she’s a fan.

Jorgensen smiles as we leave his friend behind and make our way to the East Glacier Loop Trail.

“I didn’t plan that,” he says with a smile that hints of self-consciousness. Then he begins our hike with a warning: Amy jogs this route and has been seeing her fair share of bears.

Jorgensen, 49, says that he and Amy knew that Juneau was the right place for them when they visited 18 years ago. A 1983 graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law, Jorgensen joined Earthjustice in 1984, after a yearlong clerkship with 9th Circuit Judge James Browning in San Francisco. He started out as a lawyer in the organization’s Washington, D.C., office, where he had interned for a few weeks before starting his clerkship. A position opened up in the Juneau branch in 1988 when an attorney here left for another job. (Back then, Earthjustice was called the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund. It changed its name in 1997.) Jorgensen and Amy had just married.

“We came on a day not that different than this,” Jorgensen recalls. “We kayaked for a while, took a walk and talked to some people. We decided that this was the right place. And it has been.”

As we head away from the visitor’s center, it becomes clear that I should have borrowed some boots. Jorgensen walks through flooded parts of the trail where the rainwater goes half-way up his shins. I have to take a few awkward trips around the side of the trail, occasionally falling on my backside or getting a branch in the face. The good part about the weather is the lack of tourists. We are by ourselves. Not long into the hike the trail elevates along the side of Mendenhall Lake, with a clear view of the glacier.

Jorgensen’s tenure at Earthjustice can be measured by the majestic sight. He extends his hand to a point past the end of the glacier, further down the valley. That’s where the receding glacier used to reach back in 1988, he says. By some estimates, the glacier recedes 50 to 100 feet a year.

There has been a lot of litigation since then. The Bush administration has added to the workload, but the reality is that Earthjustice has always been busy — and always will be. Peter Van Tuyn, an environmental lawyer in Anchorage and an occasional co-counsel with Earthjustice, calls Alaska “ground zero for environmental work.” The state simply has more wilderness than any other and an abundance of natural resources.

Conservationists have a strong voice here, but the political establishment tends to be pro-development and fairly conservative. The situation breeds litigation.

So far, Jorgensen has not been beaten down or burnt out by the process. He enjoys being at “the core of the debates” facing Alaska and the rest of the country. Like Waldo, Jorgensen is occasionally depressed by what he sees as constant threats to the environment. But he is always able to recharge himself, in large part because he knows his work has not been in vain.

“We really have made a substantial difference in protecting the wilderness and wildlife,” Jorgensen says as he stares at the jagged blue face of the Mendenhall. “There are a lot of setbacks along the way, but we’ve made a lot of progress in the right direction.”

Members of the business community, of course, don’t associate the word “progress” with Earthjustice litigation.

“Some of their clients have a very anti-development attitude and are not very selective in the kinds of cases they bring,” says Juneau lawyer David Crosby. “If there’s any development at all, they’re ready to sue, and that’s the sort of thing that gets the Chamber of Commerce and the development community very upset.”

With a busy practice in a small city, Crosby occasionally finds himself on the same side as Earthjustice, but more often than not he’s on the opposing side representing business and development interests.

In the Kensington Gold Mine dispute, Crosby represents Goldbelt Inc., a native company with a wide range of economic activities in Southeast Alaska. His client supports the mine’s plans to use the Lower Slate Lake for tailings disposal, which so far have been halted by Earthjustice.

Crosby also is the lawyer for the Arctic Slope Regional Corp., which represents the business interests of the Alaskan Inupiat people. Among other activities, the Arctic Slope Regional Corp. provides support services for oil and gas drilling and is litigating in favor of oil development in the disputed region of the national petroleum reserve that includes Teshekpuk Lake.

Crosby says that many of the jobs in Juneau are low-paying positions related to tourism, and the Kensington Mine is an opportunity for 250 to 300 good, permanent jobs with benefits. The same is true, he adds, for development related to timber sales. Historically, logging and mining are what brought people here for work in Southeast Alaska.

“There is a lot of resentment when groups represented by Earthjustice repeatedly challenge every project that comes up,” Crosby says.

As for proposed oil development in the Arctic, “there’s no love lost” between native business interests and the big environmental groups, says Crosby.

“These environmental groups are urban-based and national in scope,” he explains. “They have their own agenda, and that agenda does not take into account the fact that indigenous people have to earn a living and that they are familiar with the environment and have coexisted in that environment with the oil and gas companies for a number of years.”

Crosby says that his client doesn’t always support oil and gas development but is siding with the Bureau of Land Management in the Teshekpuk Lake case. That’s because most of Alaska is federal land, he says, and indigenous groups have been “willy-nilly dragged into the cash economy.”

“If there’s not some economic activity up there on the North Slope, there’s a question whether the community can be viable at all,” Crosby says. “The viability of the community depends on developing the federal lands that surround it.”

The Alaska state government, which also intervened as a defendant in the case, makes similar arguments about the importance of economic development in the region. So do the business intervenors, ConocoPhillips and Anadarko Petroleum Corp., which want to expand their oil operations in the North Slope. The lead attorney for the companies, Jeffrey Leppo of Stoel Rives in Seattle, did not respond to inquiries about Earthjustice or the litigation. In their consolidated legal brief, the intervenors argue that technological improvements of the past 20 years have reduced the environmental impact of oil and gas development.

“[B]oth the Inupiat and the State of Alaska have worked closely with [the Bureau of Land Management] and industry to ensure that oil and gas activities take place in an environmentally responsible manner that does not compromise traditional uses of the land or natural resources,” the intervenors say.

It doesn’t take a lot of legal research to realize that a remarkably small number of lawyers and judges are deciding some of the nation’s biggest environmental issues. Earthjustice filed a similar suit in 2004 to block the government’s lease sales in an area of the petroleum reserve called the Northwest Planning Area. Last year, Singleton (who also happens to be the judge presiding over the Tongass Forest case) upheld the decision by Bureau officials to lease tracts of that area. The 9th Circuit also said the leasing plan was legal in a July 26 opinion.

Crosby says his comments about excessive litigation are directed at environmental groups — not at Earthjustice itself. He views Jorgensen’s team as a law firm doing its job by representing clients. He likes the lawyers there.

“I have the highest professional regard for all of them,” Crosby says. “And Eric is not only an excellent lawyer, he’s an extremely nice person.”

I also tried to talk to Bruce Landon, a lawyer who has litigated against Jorgensen in many cases involving the federal government. Landon is a veteran civil attorney in the Justice Department’s environmental division in Anchorage. He said that public affairs personnel in the Justice Department’s Washington, D.C., office would not authorize him to comment for the article.

Eleanor Huffines, the regional director for The Wilderness Society in Alaska, a regular Earthjustice client, disputes the claim that the conservation community in the state is quick to litigate. She says that her organization and others favor development that is environmentally responsible.

“It’s not a matter of ‘Don’t do it;’ it’s a matter of where,” she says.

She says this is true both for the Tongass forest and the petroleum reserve. The Wilderness Society is a plaintiff in the Teshekpuk Lake case.

“There needs to be some protected-area strategies to complement oil and gas development,” Huffines says. “That seems reasonable in a 23-million acre area.”

Echoing something Waldo told me earlier, Huffines says that litigation has picked up during the Bush administration because federal agencies don’t really care about what environmental groups have to say. The groups have less influence in agency decisions these days, and so they end up in court more often. Still, she says the Earthjustice lawyers are good at strategic planning, helping her group decide when to go to court and exhausting all other options first.

“They are very committed to Alaska, and I think that’s what makes them such good lawyers,” Huffines says.

Van Tuyn, the Anchorage environmental attorney, says he admires Jorgensen’s commitment — especially over the long haul. Van Tuyn used to run the nonprofit group called Trustees for Alaska, a client of Earthjustice’s. He said he left for private practice, in part, because he knew he would have to pay for the college education for his two kids.

Jorgensen’s still at it after 22 years. Waldo, who also has two children, joined Earthjustice way back in 1988. Deirdre McDonnell, the third most senior attorney and the lead Earthjustice lawyer on the petroleum reserve litigation, joined the group in 2000.

“These are good folks who are doing this work because they believe in it, in the true tradition of being public interest lawyers,” Van Tuyn says. “It’s really a great thing when lawyers of their caliber make that career commitment.”

The experience is invaluable to clients. Jorgensen is as seasoned a negotiator as they come for environmental cases, says Van Tuyn.

“He’s not going to take a bad deal,” he says, and adds: “Eric is incredibly smart, a very strategic thinker and very deliberate. And he’s obviously been successful. I can’t think of a better lawyer in Alaska, much less for environmental issues.”

Jorgensen does not have any plans to switch jobs.

“This is the perfect job,” he says, as we continue our push into the forest, away from the glacier. “This is why I went to law school.”

We are hiking where the glacier used to be, Jorgensen explains, which is why the trees are young, relatively short and spaced apart. Vegetation grows slowly on the once-barren land uncovered by the receding glacier; Jorgensen points to some growing blueberries.

The climate has changed an hour into the hike. The air, windy and rainy by the lake, is now calmer, dense and muggy. A steep climb causes some serious perspiration. Despite the earlier flooding, the trail is well maintained and easy to navigate.

Earlier in life, Jorgensen says, he was on his way to becoming a scientist. He got his undergraduate degree in biology at Harvard University, then taught middle school science for a few years. He studied biology to satisfy his curiosity of the natural world, which he came to love as a kid through outdoor trips in Wyoming and Minnesota. He was born in Northfield, Minn., a town of 17,000 people about 45 miles south of Minneapolis.

Jorgensen credits his love of nature to the Boy Scouts and his troop leader, who was a college ecology professor. Jorgensen recalls fondly the canoe trips he took in the Boundary Waters bordering Canada. (So does Waldo, another native Minnesotan.)

He says that the “mechanics of law,” the procedural aspects of the profession, held no intrinsic interest for him and still don’t. He went to law school interested in results — to use the degree to protect the environment. The scientist in him still thrives. Part of the reason he has the perfect job is the results-oriented satisfaction of protecting the lands, sea and wildlife. The other part is learning the science behind the cases, talking with the experts who know more than he does.

As we descend to a low point where a wooden bridge crosses a quickly moving stream, Jorgensen talks excitedly about discovering a magazine called “Science News,” which sums up interesting developments in all fields of science.

Private lawyers, especially at big-city law firms, earn huge salaries. The day before our hike, the legal trade papers were reporting that some firms were raising salaries of first-year associates to $145,000, not including bonus. When I mention this to Jorgensen, he laughs. At Earthjustice, which is funded by contributions from individuals and foundations, the rewards are different.

“Once in a while someone will say to me, ‘When I die, I’m going to pass my money on to you guys,’” Jorgensen says. “That’s worth a few paychecks.”

So is knowing that the landscape would look far different if you hadn’t been doing your job. Some cases more than a decade old involve disputed Tongass areas where trees once slated for harvesting remain standing.

Native business interests may resent some of the Earthjustice litigation. But an important part of what the organization does, Jorgensen explains, is represent native tribes and citizens who rely on the environment and wildlife for subsistence. Earlier this year, for example, Earthjustice intervened as a defendant on the side of the federal government in a lawsuit filed by ConocoPhillips.

The company is challenging certain conditions that the National Marine Fisheries Service is putting on seismic exploration in the Arctic waters. Earthjustice is representing the Native Village of Point Hope, a tribe of about 900 members on the coast of the Chukchi Sea. The tribe subsists on hunting and fishing, and its members are particularly concerned about the effect the tests will have on the bowhead whale population. Earthjustice also occasionally represents business owners whose operations are threatened by development.

For Jorgensen, working with tribal entities is one of the most fascinating aspects of his practice.

“Your focus is really on preserving their culture,” he says.

We finish our 2-hour hike with a treat: a stop at Steep Creek, by the visitor’s center. A deck overlooks the water, where sockeye salmon come back from the ocean to spawn. The water’s a little murky from all the rain storms, but you can still see the bright red fish swimming against the stream.

As we drive back downtown, the rain again is coming down in sheets. Jorgensen talks about his 16-year-old daughter, who plays soccer in high school. For a single game, her team had to take a ferry to Sitka, an island that’s a 12-hour ferry ride away. The team slept in a church before playing the next day.

“It’s an adventure just to play high school sports here,” he says.

We say our goodbyes outside my B&B. My jeans are drier than my shoes, and I thank him for the rain pants.

The summer ends well for Earthjustice and its clients. In a 30-page decision that received national attention, Judge Singleton, on Sept. 25, blocked the government’s attempts to lease for oil and gas exploration a part of the petroleum reserve that includes Teshekpuk Lake. Singleton said that the officials “abused their discretion” by failing to “adequately address the cumulative effects of the development.” The next week, the federal government received $13.8 million in bids from Anadarko, ConocoPhillips, FEX LP and Petro-Canada to lease tracts outside of the Teshekpuk Lake area.

A big national victory came in San Francisco federal court. On Sept. 20, U.S. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Laporte reinstated the so-called Roadless Rule adopted by the Forest Service late in the Clinton administration. The rule blocked road construction and harvesting in roadless forest areas. Four states, including California, and many environmental groups represented by Earthjustice sued the Bush administration last summer for repealing the rule.

Waldo worked on the case with Earthjustice lawyers from Oakland, Seattle and Bozeman. The ruling does not apply to the Tongass, which the Bush Administration exempted from the roadless rule in 2003. Still, environmental groups hope a victory in this case will lead to a repeal of that exemption. In any event, the government and intervenors are expected to appeal Laporte’s decision.

Good news is seldom final news for environmentalists. This hit me the day before I left Alaska, on a small boat cruise through the Tracy Arm Fjord to see Sawyer Glacier and South Sawyer Glacier. The cruise is a daylong trip through an amazing stretch of wilderness. The ship passes whales in the water and bears on the shore’s forests until reaching a final stretch of icebergs, where seals watch the passengers stare at the glaciers. Everybody was impressed, yet several on the ship talked as glowingly about other outdoor adventures.

You could spend weeks in Southeast Alaska and not get to do everything you should, nevermind other parts of the state. One shipmate told me about something I had to do: Stay at a National Park Service cabin located near Kenai Fjords National Park. Like many visitors, I vowed to return, making my next trip more rustic and closer to nature.

I was reminded of something Jorgensen told me during our hike in Mendenhall. One of the difficult parts of his practice is that each loss tends to be permanent, because you can’t undo development and make the environment exactly like it was. When Earthjustice wins, the win is just temporary — the land or sea will again be at the center of some dispute.

And there is so much to fight over. Conservation and commerce will always be at odds here. Fortunately for the environmental community, Jorgensen has the skill and personality to pace himself in the perpetual fight. People like to call Alaska “God’s country,” and it’s hard to argue with that. But take a look at the dockets, and “God’s courthouse” sounds right too.

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