By Sheila Pursglove
Attorney Nick Schroeck’s original goal was to work in local government, perhaps as a city manager. But his interest in government and policy was rivaled by his passion for the natural world.
“I’ve always loved the outdoors,” he says. “In addition to spending time in our state and national parks, being out on the water and gardening, I’ve always had an interest in animal life.”
While Schroeck was a student at Wayne State University Law School, Professor Noah Hall’s Environmental Law classes made him realize he could merge his passion for government, policy, and the environment into a career path.
That trifecta led to his current position as Executive Director of the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center (GLELC) in Detroit, an independent, not-for-profit, public interest environmental law organization receiving support from the Erb Family Foundation, The Joyce Foundation, and in-kind donation from WSU Law School.
Founded to protect the world’s greatest freshwater resource and communities that depend upon it, the Center works to meet the challenge of climate change; stop the spread of aquatic invasive species; find alternatives to trans-basin water diversions; implement the Great Lakes Compact; transition to clean energy; and reform water law.
Schroeck volunteered in 2008 to help Hall get the GLELC up and running, while finishing a Sea Grant Fellowship with the Great Lakes Commission.
“I wanted to stay current in environmental law and policy,” he says. “Noah gave me the opportunity to get more legal experience while finishing my fellowship. I believe I submitted the first permit comment letter on behalf of the GLELC.”
Two years later, Schroeck was named Executive Director of the GLELC.
“It’s rewarding and challenging,” he says. “I enjoy the varied nature of the work, it’s never the same. Some days I’m filing briefs or at a hearing, other days I’m writing grant proposals or speaking to a community organization. I really value the educational component of my job. It’s rewarding to work with people in the community on public health and quality of life, and environmental justice issues.
“The media work has been fun as well. A couple highlights include being on NPR’s Science Friday, being quoted in Time, and The New York Times.”
The GLELC board comprises nine Michigan attorneys and advocates.
“I strongly believe they are future leaders in local and state law and policy — if they aren’t already,” Schroeck says. “The GLELC has been helping the state move toward a
renewable energy future and to transition off of coal. We also strive to protect the Great Lakes, and we’ve had success working on invasive species, water quality, and water quantity issues. We’re a leading organization in Michigan dedicated to public interest environmental law.”
Schroeck has represented local, state, and national environmental and community groups in a variety of air and water quality cases. Currently the GLELC is serving as local counsel for national environmental groups in their challenges to state issued permits to install for two coal plants in Michigan. Schroeck has also represented groups as amici in the state Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court.
Schroeck is also an adjunct professor at Wayne Law, where he is Director of the Transnational Environmental Law Clinic.
“Our students are smart, dedicated, and passionate about the work. Typically the students are so fast and effective with their work that I struggle to keep up,” he says.
“The clinic has been running for over 3 years now, and the feedback from the students and the law school has been outstanding. Students gain practical legal experience and do the type of work expected at a firm, in government, or nonprofit organizations. With the clinic, we really have a first rate environmental program at Wayne Law. The students have excellent course offerings from Professor Hall and Professor Hofmeister, and they have the clinic to develop their lawyer skills.”
The students are also among the GLELC’s most valuable resources.
“The partnership with Wayne Law has been beneficial for both sides, and I think it serves as a good model for other clinics,” Schroeck says.
In his own student days at Elmhurst College in Illinois, Schroeck studied under the late Dr. Andrew K. Prinz.
“He was a legend in the field of urban studies and huge proponent of open space, parks, and public transportation,” Schroeck says. “Dr. Prinz was a great influence on me. He instilled a passion for learning and teaching about cities and urban environments. I try to follow in his large footsteps with my teaching at Wayne.”
Schroeck’s Sea Grant Fellowship was an excellent learning experience where he met many of the leaders in Great Lakes policy and management circles and worked extensively on ballast water and invasive species issues.
“Tim Eder, the GLC executive director, was a great boss, offering guidance but also letting me figure things out on my own,” he says. “Tim is very effective in helping to drive and shape policy. It was a joy to watch him work - on a conference call or in a meeting — he had command of the issues and had a positive, measured approach.”
Schroeck then landed a job in Ann Arbor as a regional representative for the National Wildlife Federation, working with conservation organizations around the Great Lakes region.
“NWF is a fantastic organization,” he says. “They are focused on conservation, but also on facing head-on one of the biggest policy challenges ever — dealing with a warming world and a changing climate.
“I really enjoyed working with conservation, hunting, and angling groups that were passionate about the outdoors, and protecting the natural world for future generations. I also love NWF’s focus on backyard habitats and connecting people with wildlife.”
Schroeck, who worked on invasive species and water quality issues as well as general conservation work with NWF state affiliates, learned about the importance of native plants and providing food, water, and shelter for wildlife in urban and suburban settings.
He also learned about nonprofit management and development from NWF regional executive director Andy Buchsbaum.
“Andy’s a real leader, respected by the environmentalists, government, and industry,” Schroeck says. “I was fortunate to be able to work and learn alongside him for a couple of years, it was an invaluable experience.”
Schroeck also serves on the board of Saving Birds Thru Habitat, an organization with the slogan “helping to improve habitat for migrating birds one backyard at a time.” The center, established in 2001 and headquartered in Omena on Michigan’s Leelanau Peninsula, is adjacent to a 44-acre private conservation Charter Sanctuary, which has hosted more than 60 nesting species; 100 additional species use the property for foraging during migration.
“Land use changes can have enormous consequences for birds — some return to the same spot year after year to raise young,” Schroeck says. “Without the right habitat, the results can be disastrous. SBTH is extremely effective in helping people understand that what we do on our property impacts the birds. Native plants are important for birds and the bugs they eat. SBTH is doing the work, on the ground, that really helps Michigan birds.”
As might be expected, bird watching and gardening are high on Schroeck’s list of leisure-time pursuits. The native of Rochester, now lives in Bloomfield Township, and his wife Liz teaches third grade at Meadowbrook Elementary in Rochester. Two cats — Donkey and Vanna — round out the family.
The Schroecks, who also enjoy hiking and reading, spent a good deal of time this fall processing tomatoes and peppers from their garden.
“We love to cook, though Liz is the expert,” he says. “Both my wife and I are mainly vegetarians, although we eat fish and wild game.”
For more information visit www.glelc.org, www.savingbirds.org, and www.nwf.org.