Meet Mac Lacy

A Q&A with ONDA's Senior Attorney

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Stewardship Fence Building Timelapse

Stewardship Fence Building Timelapse

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Helen Harbin, ONDA Board Member

Helen Harbin, ONDA Board Member

“I connect with Oregon’s high desert through my feet, my eyes, my sense of smell, and all the things I hear. Getting out there is a whole body experience.” Supporting ONDA, Helen says, not only connects her with wild landscapes, but is also a good investment. “I felt like if I gave them $20, they might squeeze $23 out of it.”

fact

Bobcat

Bobcat

Found only in North America, where it is the most common wildcat, the bobcat takes its common name from its stubby, or “bobbed,” tail. The cats range in length from two to four feet and weigh 14 to 29 pounds. Bobcats mainly hunt rabbits and hares, but they will also eat rodents, birds, bats, and even adult deer.

Latin name: Lynx rufus fasciatus

 

Mac Lacy, Senior Attorney
You joined the team in 1999, making you ONDA’s most tenured employee. How have you seen ONDA change in the past two decades?

As ONDA has grown, we’ve been able to cover more ground, both literally and figuratively. I spent a great deal of time early on trying to see as much of our field area as possible—exploring the Owyhee Canyonlands with then-wilderness coordinator Brent Fenty, the Malheur Wild and Scenic rivers with member Chris Christie, and Beaty Butte with founding board member Craig Miller. The ever-increasing breadth of our field-based work has been particularly impressive—from riparian restoration projects crucial to native trout recovery, to monitoring hundreds of thousands of acres of essential sagebrush habitat for the Greater sage-grouse. From our plucky but effective early days, to today’s well-organized but still nimble organization, I’ve been inspired by the power of ONDA’s grassroots enthusiasm and commitment.

I’m also deeply interested in issues of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion in my country and my community—so I’m proud to be part of a newly-established committee at ONDA that is examining how our work for the desert can be enriched, and enriching to others, as we reach and involve a broader array of people and perspectives.

 

How does legal work contribute to protecting our natural resources?

Legal action serves a number of purposes. When a neutral federal judge agrees that the government has not followed the law and something needs to be done about it, this legitimizes environmental complaints. When a hostile administration backs out of a treaty or guts an environmental regulation, legal action can roll back the rollbacks. Where government agencies are pressured by industry and other anti-conservation special interests, citizen enforcement is often the only meaningful enforcement. It can expose wrongdoing so that no one is above doing their part to keep our shared environment healthy for all. Whether you’re talking about protecting our environment or advocating for children and other vulnerable members of society, strategic legal action is very often the impetus for change.

What outcome are you most proud of?

One of my first cases for ONDA remains the Ninth Circuit’s leading decision on wilderness issues. In 2003, we challenged BLM’s refusal to consider whether its land use plans would affect wilderness values across eight million acres of public land from Fort Rock Valley to the Owyhee Canyonlands. The district court deferred to BLM, but, on appeal, the Ninth Circuit agreed with us. The court explained that because BLM has the authority to manage wilderness as part of its multiple-use mission, it has the obligation to study whether wilderness values are present and how a proposed plan or project should treat land with such values.

As a result, the U.S. Department of the Interior in 2012 issued a new wilderness manual, reinstating a formal inventory protocol for the first time since the George W. Bush Administration rescinded the 2001 manual in a back-room settlement with the State of Utah. BLM has since recognized literally millions of acres of wilderness-quality lands across the West—places like Oregon Butte, near the remote source of the West Little Owyhee River, where you can gaze across three states at once in a high-elevation, windswept, sagebrush landscape that seems to go on forever.

 

What public land management trends are most concerning to you right now? Most encouraging?

The current administration’s gutting of essential conservation policies and regulations is tremendously concerning. Just like it took us many years to undo the Bush Administration’s “no more wilderness” edict, it will take years to repair the damage currently being wrought by this administration.

By contrast, I’m more encouraged than ever by the willingness of citizens, including ONDA’s members and supporters, to get involved and make a difference. For example, hundreds and hundreds of hours of work went into the ONDA wilderness and road inventories that we’ve relied upon in the courtroom to secure an injunction that has prevented over 120 miles of non-existent routes from being turned into permanent new roads scarring Steens Mountain.

Even in the face of today’s threats to conserving our planet’s fragile and finite environment, a recent family visit to Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge was all I needed to re-charge and keep me inspired to continue this fight.

 

Last year, you used a sabbatical to compose music. Who are your musical influences, and would you mind sharing a track with us?

I listen to a lot of blues and jazz and rock, and a fair amount of hip-hop, R&B and soul. When it comes to guitar players and composers, I’ve always loved Jimi Hendrix and George Harrison. Some of the best live shows I’ve seen recently include Gary Clark, Jr., Omara Portuondo, Esperanza Spalding, SZA, and Kendrick Lamar.

Check out this song, called “Ah, Oh.”

Tell us how your master’s degree work studying ancient sand dunes in central Wisconsin paved the way for your career in conservation law.

My field area in Wisconsin happened to be the place Aldo Leopold wrote about in A Sand County Almanac. My research aimed to connect the Central Sands with similar wind-blown deposits in the upper Midwest where dunes have fluctuated between active and stabilized states as Earth’s climate changed over the course of the past fifteen-thousand years following the last ice age.

Certainly, the library research, field and lab work, and constant writing helped me along the path to practicing environmental law. Losing a complete first draft of my thesis into the cloud-less ether of pre-millennium computing taught me, if nothing else, a bit of perseverance and the utility of controlled breathing.

Two courses in particular at the University of Wisconsin really drew me into thinking more deeply about the relationship between people and the environment: Tom Vale’s course on how human activity shapes and changes patterns in vegetation and Bill Cronon’s ground-breaking course on American environmental history.

 

Any advice for students considering a career in conservation law?

Get involved by volunteering and working with conservation groups and environmental lawyers. This will help you understand what kind of work you like doing and also build your network of public interest conservation connections.

As an undergrad, I worked in the law department at H.J. Heinz Company’s world headquarters in Pittsburgh. I split my time between Heinz’s sleek corporate offices on the 60th floor of the Steel Building downtown and a small law library in the company’s historic main plant in a neighborhood across the Allegheny River from the city. It was interesting, but I concluded by the end of that summer that patent, trademark, and corporate law was not for me!

While at Lewis & Clark Law School, I volunteered with ONDA and then won a stipend to work as ONDA’s law clerk the following summer. My experience working for Stephanie Parent, who represented ONDA at the time and was my first and most influential attorney mentor, set me up to hit the ground running when ONDA hired me after I graduated.

Volunteering in your areas of interest can help you find your way when school ends and life begins.

Check back later for more Q&As with ONDA staff, members and partners.

What Mac’s Reading Now

A Strangeness in My Mind by Orhan Pamuk, and The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration" by Isabel Wilkerson. "I usually like to have one work of fiction and one of non-fiction going at any given time," says Mac.

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