Siobhan joined Trustees in October 2023 after working many years in the public sector for the State of Alaska. Here, she talks about her path to law, Alaska, and Trustees.
By Siobhan McIntyre
I grew up in the greater Boston area. My journey to environmental law began against a suburban backdrop where vistas “as far as the eye could see” usually spanned about 10 to 100 feet, depending on the density of development and deciduous trees. The great outdoors featured mostly lawns, municipal sports fields, and other variations on the theme of mown and managed Bermuda grass.
Nevertheless, I learned that I held a deep affinity for the woods, the fields, the streams, and wild spaces that followed transmission lines and utility corridors, marked the narrow lines between one town and the next, and beckoned from books about adventuresome youths befriending wolves in the Arctic and testing survival skills on desert isles.
My perceptive mother enrolled me in summer camp at the local, one-square-mile Audubon sanctuary, where we learned games like “predator/prey” and “flash flood.” She relates that, after picking me up from my first camping trip at age thirteen, I was the dirtiest and happiest she had ever seen me.
Backpack, rock climb, raft
A few years later, I traveled west across the Mississippi and, for the first time, encountered public lands and open spaces not just larger than any public park I had ever seen, but larger than most New England states. I knew I wanted to spend more time in those vast open spaces. I knew I wanted to learn to backpack and rock climb and raft. I knew I wanted to learn more about public lands, wildlife management, and conservation, but I didn’t know how, who to ask, or where to begin.
So, I went to Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa, and studied liberal arts. I learned about the demise of the prairie and the grassroots efforts to save it. My perceptive mother mailed me a clipping of an advertisement for summer jobs in national parks, and I spent two summers working with the National Park Service in Yellowstone National Park and a year working in Zion.
I learned to backpack, rock climb, and raft.
About that English degree
I graduated with a degree in English literature, an amorphous career plan, and a go-to joke for those concerned about my uncertain future: I don’t know what I want to be; I only know that I don’t want to be a doctor or a lawyer. Then, after a year working in public relations for a state conversation agency, I learned that I wanted not only to communicate and educate, but also to advocate. Notably, I also joined a weekly ice-skating group hosted by the agency’s lawyers; by spring, they had convinced me to apply to law school.
I attended Vermont Law School and learned how environmental and natural resource laws have shaped the landscape, for better and worse, and provided critical backstops against pollutants and toxic materials. I learned how far those legal protections have come, and I interned with public interest environmental law groups that taught me how far they have left to go.
I spent a sweltering summer in Washington, D.C. interning with the U.S. Department of Justice, Environmental and Natural Resources Division. I learned that I hate the heat.
Like many attorneys graduating at the height of the Great Recession, I entered a workforce replete with frightening anecdotes of lawyers with decades of experience interning for free and of newly graduated lawyers turning to artistic enterprise, decoupaging their way through reams of rejection letters. I was open to – and hoped there were – other alternatives. As I met with Vermont Law’s enthusiastic and undaunted senior career counselor, she slid a map of Alaska’s judicial districts across a desk and asked, “Would you consider living in Alaska?” Absolutely, I said. A year later, I found myself in Kenai, Alaska, beginning my legal career with the Alaska Court System and learning to call Alaska home. My perceptive mother travelled to Alaska in the depths of the cold and dark of December to celebrate the holidays.
A perceptive mother, indeed
Since my start in Kenai, I have spent time in Fairbanks and Anchorage and held positions in private practice and in the public sector, litigating on behalf of and advising public agencies for the majority of my career. Through these positions, I have learned to be an advocate for the cases and causes that I believe further the public good.
As a citizen of Alaska, I still have so much to learn. I am in constant awe of Alaska’s majestic, sublime, and humbling natural features and the resourcefulness, steadfastness, and ingenuity of its communities. I am honored to start a new chapter here at Trustees and to be an advocate for the sustainability and protection of Alaska’s wild places and the health of its people. When I recently relayed the news of my mid-career transition, my perceptive mother said, “that makes sense, it’s something you’ve always wanted to do.”