UM student’s journey from River Guide to environmental lawyer
(UM News Service) University of Montana law student Meridian Wappett’s connection to rapid waters goes all the way back to her preschool days.
“I’ve been rafting since I was 5 years old,” said Wappett, a native of Moscow, Idaho. “I started navigating Class IV rapids when I was 12. It’s safe to say I grew up on the river.”
Wappett’s love for the river guided her toward the sciences early in her childhood. Her high school teachers encouraged her to volunteer with state environmental organizations, where Wappett got a taste for what’s required to organize rallies, draft and pass climate change legislation, and spend days testifying at the state legislature.
When Wappett decided to attend college, she wanted to gain skillsets to help protect the rivers she grew up on. This led her to Utah State University, where Wappett pursued a degree in conservation and restoration ecology, working toward a career as a scientist.
After spending a few summers conducting undergraduate research, Wappett realized her scientific studies wouldn’t be enough to protect the environment in the way she had planned.
Thanks to her continued work with environmental nonprofits, Wappett had an opportunity to work on a congressional campaign as the communications director and environmental policy drafter. It was there that she realized her true love was the blending of ecology and policy.
“I wanted to do more with my ecology degree,” said Wappett. “Policy felt like the missing piece I was looking for.” Wappett explored careers in environmental policy but found the impact she sought in environmental law.
Wappett spent her last year of undergrad serving as a college of natural resources senator, studying for the Law School Admission Test and applying to the West's best environmental law schools.
During it all, Wappett always kept a connection to water, working as a guide on the Middle Fork of the Flathead River and the main and middle fork of the Salmon River.
“Ultimately, I chose to go to law school in Montana because of its fantastic environmental law program and reputation for being a hands-on learning environment,” said Wappett. “That made going to Montana for law school a no-brainer.”
Navigating law school hasn’t been as natural as reading the river for Wappett. She said the learning curve is steep but worth the time and effort. Wappett has found her place at the law school, where she is on the Public Land and Resources Law Review and is the incoming co-chair of the Environmental Law Group.
Wappett says her science background has been a big help to her in school and practice. In moving from ecology and conservation into policy and law, she will be better positioned to protect the environment.
“Law school is what you make of it,” said Wappett. “I’m already getting to intern at a nonprofit, public interest environmental law firm protecting the rivers I grew up on. I am finally making the change needed to protect my important places”