About Res Gestae

The rise of ‘Zoom Towns’ in the rural west


When COVID-19 hit the United States, small towns near ski areas such as Park City, Utah, and Sun Valley, Idaho, experienced some of the highest per capita cases; people from around the world had brought the virus along with their skis. As the coronavirus spread, gateway communities—communities near scenic public lands, national parks, and other outdoor recreational amenities—felt acute economic pressure as the virus forced them to shut down tourist activities.

Crowds on a popular hike in Zion National Park in Utah.
PHOTO CREDIT: National Park Service

Now, many gateway communities are facing an entirely new problem: a flood of remote workers fleeing big cities to ride out the pandemic, perhaps permanently. Like oil discovery led to western boomtowns, the pandemic has led to the rise of “Zoom Towns”—and with this so-called amenity migration comes a variety of challenges.

“This trend was already happening, but amenity migration into these communities has been expedited and it can have destructive consequences if not planned for and managed. Many of these places are, as some people say, at risk of being loved to death,” said Danya Rumore, director of the Environmental Dispute Resolution Program and research assistant professor in the Department of City & Metropolitan Planning at the University of Utah.

Rumore, who is from the gateway community of Sandpoint, Idaho, leads a team of researchers at University of Utah and University of Arizona who study planning and development challenges in western gateway communities. In a new paper in the Journal of the American Planning Association, the team published the results of a 2018 study involving a survey with public officials in more than 1200 western gateway communities and in-depth interviews with officials from 25 communities. In an eerie foreshadowing, a town manager from a developed gateway community said, “We don’t have the staff capacity to deal with major crises.”

“Our research shows that as small, rural gateway communities grow, they tend to experience a suite of big city problems, like housing affordability and transportation issues,” Rumore said. “In 2018 these public officials expressed a sense of already being behind the curve, and in need of additional capacity and resources to plan and adapt to rapid growth.”

In an effort to help gateway communities and the regions around them plan for and respond to COVID-19 and planning pressures, Rumore and others have launched the Gateway and Natural Amenity Region (GNAR) Initiative based at Utah State University in the Institute of Outdoor Recreation and Tourism. The GNAR Initiative will begin hosting a webinar series on amenity migration beginning Oct. 15.

Loved to death

As part of the study, officials were asked specific questions about their communities’ planning challenges and opportunities. Housing and cost of living were key concerns for many gateway communities; 80% of respondents reported that housing affordability was moderately or extremely problematic for their community. Respondents also cited traffic congestion and other transportation issues as problems. These issues appear to be more strongly associated with population growth than with tourism and will likely get worse as COVID-19 drives rapid migration to these places.

The influx of remote workers could present economic development opportunities for gateway communities, Rumore said, but could also drive up housing prices and cost of living. Half of the survey respondents said that the average wage relative to cost-of-living was moderately or extremely problematic for their community in 2018, prior to this new wave of amenity migration.

The location of 1,522 gateway communities included in the study. PHOTO CREDIT: Stoker et. al. (2020) Journal of the American Planning Association

“If you’ve been living there and growing up in this community and you don’t have a job that’s paying the salary of someone who’s in, for example, downtown Seattle, you’re going to be excluded from this community and your ability to invest in land and property if you haven’t already,” said Philip Stoker, assistant professor at the University of Arizona and co-author of the study.

The severity of challenges reported in the 2018 survey of public officials from more than 1,500 gateway communities.

For Zacharia Levine, doctoral student at the U and co-author of the paper, the topic is personal. For six years he served as the community and economic community director for Grand County, Utah, which encompasses the gateway city of Moab, the Colorado River, and two national parks—Arches and Canyonlands. Over the last 10 years, Moab visitation has grown to more than 3 million people per year. The locals felt it.

“The primary challenges residents reported included downtown congestion, housing affordability and availability, environmental degradation, and a general decline in quality of life. Much of Moab’s infrastructure was built when the town became a uranium boomtown; it was never designed to accommodate the world. Just in the last few years, we’ve had to build new water storage facilities, sewer treatment facilities, roads, and other public infrastructure,” said Levine. “Further, our local governments have struggled to increase their human resource capacities to plan for the future, let alone to deal with current issues.”

Levine began working with Rumore in hopes of finding guidance to address these immense challenges, but the academic planning literature lacked resources that focused on planning for these unique rural communities. The problem was hardly unique to Moab—some places such as Jackson, Wyoming, and Breckenridge, Colorado, have been experiencing amenity migration and related growth and development pressures for decades. Other gateway communities, such as Torrey, Utah that never thought it would happen to them, are just starting to feel the pressure. Like Rumore, Levine is worried that the flood of remote workers would catch many gateway communities, particularly those that are less developed, off guard.

“Many places have experienced this common trajectory. How does a gateway community navigate tourism, and growth writ-large, more gracefully?” Levine asked. “COVID-19 really blew the lid off that challenge.”

STAT PHOTO CREDIT: Stoker et. al. (2020) Journal of the American Planning Association

The GNAR Initiative

The GNAR Initiative is an affiliation of university faculty, government and state agencies, nonprofit organizations and community leaders that supports research, educational efforts, and capacity building to help public lands managers and others. The initiative provides an online toolkit for gateway communities, hosts educational events and community peer-to-peer learning forums, and supports cross-university research initiatives.

As part of its efforts to raise awareness about the likelihood of amenity migration to gateway communities and to share tools and resources, the GNAR Initiative will begin hosting a webinar series on amenity migration beginning Oct. 15.

“The main takeaway from our study and work with gateway communities is that these towns and cities need to plan ahead to manage change and the things that come with it,” Rumore said. “The goal of the GNAR Initiative is to help these places thrive and preserve the things that make them so special.”

The study was funded by the National Institute for Transportation and Communities. Lindsey Romaniello of University of Arizona also co-authored the study.

Useful links:

  • Click here to view the study.
  • Click here to view the Amenity Migration webinar series.

Contreras’ research explores impact of patent sharing in fight against COVID-19


New research published by University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law Professor Jorge Contreras and colleagues in the journal Nature Biotechnology  shows an effort to make intellectual property more accessible to researchers, developers and manufacturers is having positive results in the response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Contreras was among a group of nine lawyers, scientists and engineers from the United States and United Kingdom who came together in March to create a flexible, open platform for sharing intellectual property in the fight against COVID-19.  The article, Pledging intellectual property for COVID-19, outlines results of those efforts.

The goal was to remove IP-based hurdles to the rapid research and deployment of critical equipment, protective gear, systems and biopharma products relevant to the pandemic. The result was the Open COVID Pledge, which launched on April 7.  To date, about 30 companies, institutions and national laboratories have pledged approximately 250,000 patents to this cause, with more joining regularly.  The project is now being stewarded by Creative Commons, the global host of free online content and the creator of a popular suite of online content licenses.

“We feel that the Pledge is an attractive option for IP holders, as it is limited only to pandemic research and response and lasts only during the pandemic plus one year.  Alternatives such as governmental compulsory licensing and formal patent pools, while also valuable tools in the fight against COVID-19, have drawbacks that the Pledge addresses,” said Contreras.

“For example, compulsory licensing is viewed as an undesirable intrusion by government into the private sector, and pools require significant overhead and administration.  While the Pledge cannot achieve everything that these other mechanisms can (e.g., it is voluntary and IP-holders can’t be compelled to join), it fills a gap that we hope advances the fight against this pandemic,” he added.

Contreras teaches in the areas of intellectual property law, property law and genetics and the law.  He has recently been named one of the University of Utah’s Presidential Scholars and won the 2018-19 Faculty Scholarship Award from the S.J. Quinney College of Law.

Contreras is blogging about legal issues related to intellectual property and the coronavirus here.

U hosts Rocky Mountain Junior Scholars Forum


The University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law hosted legal scholars from across the country for the annual Rocky Mountain Junior Scholars Conference.

The conference, which the University of Utah hosts every other year, brought together dozens of scholars from several law schools who are early in their careers. Participants circulated papers before the conference and presented a work in progress to small groups of peers in a workshop format at the virtual conference.

In addition to paper presentations, this year’s conference included a plenary panel on how to improve scholarly impact. Professors Paul Cassell, Robin Kundis Craig and Jorge Contreras spoke on a plenary panel about how to improve citations, downloads and scholarly placements, among other topics. Shima Baughman, a law professor and associate dean for faculty research and development, coordinated the conference. The link to the plenary panel is here.

Ruple article on fossil fuel development featured by Environmental Law Reporter


University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law Research Professor John Ruple co-wrote an article with Jamie Gibbs Pluene and Nada Wolff Culver titled, A Road Map to Net-Zero Emissions For Fossil Fuel Development on Public Lands. Their article was selected as the featured Environmental Law Reporter (ELR) article of the month. It will be featured on the ELR homepage, shared on the ELR blog and promoted on the ELR social media platforms.

Tanana is named ENREL’S Lawyer of the Year


University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law Research Professor Heather Tanana has been named “lawyer of the year” by the Energy, Natural Resources & Environmental Law (“ENREL”) Section of the Utah State Bar.

The award was announced at the ENREL Annual Business Meeting on October 6.

Tanana is experienced in state, federal, and tribal courts and clerked at the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah. She also founded the Indian Law Section of the Utah State Bar Association.

Tanana’s research interests include exploring the overlay between environmental and health policy, promoting better practices in Indian child welfare, and criminal justice in Indian Country.

She has participated in organizing extensive relief efforts during COVID-19. (Learn more about these efforts on the U Rising podcast).

“The Stegner Center was thrilled to learn that Heather Tanana received this award. Heather’s pro bono initiative bringing medical, financial and other aid to Utah’s Native American tribes during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic was in the best public service tradition of the legal profession and reflected her deep scholarly interests in Indian health and the environment, a principal focus of her work at the Stegner Center,” said Robert Keiter,  director of the Wallace Stegner Center at the College of Law.

The ENREL Section of the Utah State Bar was established in 1977 for the purpose of seeking the participation of all interested members of the Bar and of other state and local bar associations in order to benefit such members by providing continuing legal education, a forum for the interchange of ideas in the areas of natural resources, oil, gas and mining, public lands, energy, Native American, water, and environmental law; initiating and implementing common projects; and to undertake such other services as may be of benefit to the members, the legal profession and the public.

George to receive SALT Shanara Gilbert Human Rights Award


The Society of American Law Teachers Board of Governors has selected University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law Professor Erika George as the recipient of the 2020 SALT Shanara Gilbert Human Rights Award.

The organization is honoring George for her longstanding contributions in human rights work in the classroom and community —both domestically and abroad. George’s work has advanced SALT’s mission and embodies the tenets of this award, the organization stated in a notification letter.

George will accept the award virtually at SALT’S 2021 Annual Celebration on January 8, 2021.

U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Neil M. Gorsuch surprises University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law students at orientation


Incoming law students at the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law received an unexpected and thrilling surprise to end their first official week of law school: U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Neil M. Gorsuch dropped in on the final day of orientation via Zoom to personally welcome students to the legal profession.

Gorsuch, who took his seat on the Court in April 2017, on Friday encouraged law students to persevere through challenging times as they start their legal studies in the midst of a global pandemic.

Gorsuch’s live remarks delighted law students and their families, who had gathered virtually on Zoom to participate in the S.J. Quinney College of Law’s annual swearing-in ceremony. The rite of passage, similar to white coat ceremonies celebrated by new medical students, was founded 18 years ago. The 90 members of the Class of 2023 completed orientation week and introduction to classes prior to the ceremony.

Gorsuch’s appearance is the first time a Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court has delivered the ceremony’s professional oath to students. Inviting him as one of event’s distinguished guests helped to end the week for new students on a high note, said Dean Elizabeth Kronk Warner.

COVID-19 has fundamentally changed the way most incoming law students are beginning their legal education, Kronk Warner noted. From mask requirements to taking some courses online, law students embarking on a three-year path to earning a J.D. are doing so in one of the most uncertain times in recent history.

“In a time of so many unknowns and in a year when we had to change the way we delivered our traditional orientation to law students, we wanted to make our swearing-in ceremony particularly special for our legal community and our newest group of aspiring attorneys,” said Kronk Warner. “We were honored that Justice Gorsuch accepted our invitation and inspired our students with his words of wisdom at the swearing-in ceremony. We are grateful to have him as part of the festivities to cap off an excellent start to the academic year.”

Gorsuch’s remarks served as a reminder of the power a law degree. The Justice, who has ties to the West as a native of Denver, received a B.A. from Columbia University, a J.D. from Harvard Law School, and a D.Phil. from Oxford University. He served as a law clerk to Judge David B. Sentelle of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and as a law clerk to Justice Byron R. White and Justice Anthony M. Kennedy of the Supreme Court of the United States. From 1995–2005, he was in private practice, and from 2005–2006 he was Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General at the U.S. Department of Justice. He was appointed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in 2006. He served on the Standing Committee on Rules for Practice and Procedure of the U.S. Judicial Conference, and as chairman of the Advisory Committee on Rules of Appellate Procedure. He also taught at the University of Colorado Law School. President Donald J. Trump nominated him to the bench.

Reyes Aguilar, associate dean of admissions and financial aid at the S.J. Quinney College of Law, said Gorsuch’s presence added to an already momentous ceremony for law students.

“This is a unique opportunity for our students in the Class of 2023,” said Aguilar. “To be sworn in by a U.S. Supreme Court Justice is something that no other incoming class has ever experienced.”

College of Law named a “Best Value” law school by PreLaw magazine


For the eighth year in a row, the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law has been named a “Best Value” law school by PreLaw magazine, a publication of The National Jurist.

The newest set of rankings were released on Nov. 6.  The publication gave the College of Law a grade of A- for its exceptional value.

“We are very proud to be named a best value law school.  This is consistent with our fundamental value of providing a world class education without asking students to go into outrageous debt.  Our average student debt load is below the national average, which is indicative of our efforts to keep tuition relatively low while increasing scholarship support for students,” said Elizabeth Kronk Warner, dean of the College of Law.

“By keeping costs lower than many of our peers while maintaining our high standards, we hope to provide students the opportunity to select career opportunities that align with their values rather than what is necessary to pay off debt,” she said.

Rankings are compiled by using a methodology that recognizes law schools whose graduates excel at passing the bar and have strong job prospects upon graduation without taking on a large debt load.

To read more about the rankings, click here.

Utah law schools announce achievement fellowships


Brigham Young University J. Reuben Clark Law School (BYU Law) and the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law (Utah Law) today announced a collaboration with leading Utah law firms to create the Achievement Fellowships Program. Under this program, students will receive full-tuition awards and access to mentorship activities to attract, recognize and support students who have qualified for admission to law school in the face of significant challenges or hardships.

Durham Jones & Pinegar, Greenberg Traurig, Kirton McConkie, Snell & Wilmer, Parsons, Behle & Latimer, and Strong & Hanni have already committed to support the program, and more firms are expected to join. Thanks to funding from the firms, recipients of the Achievement Fellowship will receive full tuition for each of three academic years beginning with students entering fall 2021. In addition to funding tuition, the firms have committed to mentoring the Achievement Fellows.

“We are grateful that the Utah legal community is making this tangible investment in the diversity of Utah’s law student population as we seek to address problems of social injustice and systemic racism close to home,” said D. Gordon Smith, dean of BYU Law. “Socioeconomic hardship should never be a barrier for bright, aspiring law students. As home to two of the country’s top law schools, and a burgeoning legal and tech community, Utah has a responsibility to foster future legal professionals. We believe this program will broaden the state’s appeal to prospective candidates and enhance the quality of law practiced in Utah.”

“Utah Law is excited to partner with BYU Law and these Utah law firms to launch the Achievement Fellows Program,” said Elizabeth Kronk Warner, dean of the S.J. Quinney College of Law. “This program will undoubtedly encourage more students from historically underrepresented groups to choose the state of Utah as a destination for law school, elevating professional opportunities for deserving individuals and enhancing the practice of law here in the Beehive State.”

This program provides the Achievement Fellows with the opportunity to interact with leading law firms while enabling the firms to broaden their commitment to diversity and mentorship. “We are honored to join BYU Law and Utah Law to help roll out this new initiative,” said Lee A. Wright, president of Kirton McConkie, which was the first firm to pledge its commitment to this important new program. “We see a social responsibility to take action toward diversification, and we look forward to this opportunity to broaden our firm’s diversity initiatives and law practice.”

In granting these Achievement Fellowships, the law schools will consider a broad spectrum of life challenges, including socioeconomic disadvantage, disability, being the first in their family to attend college, attending under-resourced schools or status as an immigrant or former refugee. Hardships such as homelessness, living in foster care, working multiple jobs or long hours in high school or college, or living in a family struggling with poverty, incarceration, abandonment, physical or mental health issues and/or substance abuse are examples of the types of disadvantages that may be considered when selecting recipients of these awards. In all cases, the reviewing committee will be looking for evidence of personal growth, initiative, perseverance and character development.

To apply for consideration, prospective applicants may visit https://law.byu.edu/departments/admissions/ for BYU Law and https://law.utah.edu/ for Utah Law.