A bittersweet farewell

Attorney leaves Trustees, but continues protecting the vulnerable

Sep 15, 2017
Michelle and Ranger B with arms wide near Polychrome Pass in Denali National Park. A bittersweet farewell.

Michelle and Ranger B near Polychrome Pass in Denali National Park. A bittersweet farewell indeed. Photo courtesy Michelle Sinnott.

Michelle Sinnott interned for Trustees in 2012 and worked as a staff attorney from December 2014 until the end of this month. She and her pets doggedly worked to protect healthy water, land, fisheries, and wildlife. Her departure comes as a bittersweet farewell for all of us. We know she’s going to do incredible work for animals, but we’ll miss her in the office. She shared some final words.

This time of year is bittersweet.

The long days and warm summer sun are quickly fading. As the days get shorter, the air gets colder, and I find myself running around like a maniac trying to pack in as much as I can before summer ends.

Michelle, Ranger B, and dog Lilly in front of a mossy cabin in Caines Head, Alaska.

Looking wet with Lilly at Caines Head State Recreation Area. Photo courtesy Michelle Sinnott.

I spend weeks holding tight to summer because I refuse to admit it is over. Once I come to terms with the inevitable transition to fall, I start to embrace the next season. I stock up on canned pumpkin, pay attention to the aurora forecast, and anxiously wait for the first snowfall.

New job means protecting animals

This year, as summer transitions into fall, I am working on a personal transition, too. At the end of the month, I will transition from working as a staff attorney at Trustees for Alaska to working as an attorney with the Foundation to Support Animal Protection.

Chewy and Raven are dogs Michelle adopted and often spent the workweek at the office.

Chewy and Raven helped Michelle out while at the Trustees office. Now they get to work at home. Photo courtesy Michelle Sinnott.

This transition will take me from environmental law to animal law. And, it involves a transition from working in an office to working remotely out of my Anchorage home.

Going back to legal roots

Over a decade ago, when going to law school seemed unattainable, I worked as a paralegal on litigation trying to protect the elephants at the Ringling Brothers Circus. This is how I got my start. Sometimes when you get a call to go back to your roots, you can’t turn it down.

During my first year at Vermont Law School, Peter Van Tuyn gave a talk about the proposed Pebble mine in Bristol Bay Alaska. I attended the talk because Alaska was on my bucket list. I left the event outraged–and I turned that outrage into action, immediately making a list of all the places in Alaska where I could intern and work on stopping Pebble.

Michelle and Ranger B go hiking on the Reed Lakes trail in Hatcher Pass.

Hiking the Reed Lakes trail in Hatcher Pass. Photo courtesy Michelle Sinnott.

Trustees was at the top of the list. Fast forward a few years, and I found myself working on the Pebble issue as a staff attorney at Trustees.

Turning outrage into action

Trustees is fighting for things I feel passionate about. The times ahead look bleak and there is a lot of work to do. Holding the line has become a rallying cry. Every day brings more bad news. I am outraged daily, and I want to continue to turn that outrage into action.

I struggled with whether now was the right time to transition. Truth be told, there is never a good time. If we had to choose when the seasons change, Alaska’s summer would never end. Transitions are inevitable.

Carrying on the Trustees mission
Michelle's jumping in front of a lake with a glacier in the background.

Leaping for nature. Photo courtesy Michelle Sinnott.

I am leaving Trustees knowing that every issue I worked on is in the best possible hands. The Trustees team is stronger than ever and is ready to fight the impending storm. As an Alaskan, I take comfort in knowing that Trustees is here fighting for clean water, public lands, wildlife, and the Artic.

Though stepping away from the front lines of these fights, I will always be supportive of Trustees. The folks here are truly amazing people doing amazing things for Alaska. I am a better person and lawyer for the time I spent working at Trustees.

Chewy and Raven get a breather at Eklutna Lake.

Animals, lakes, trails and sky. Michelle and the dogs believe in it all. Photo courtesy Michelle Sinnott.

Preparing for the next season

True to form, I will spend the next week franticly running around trying to do all the things I have been meaning to do. I will organize materials and pass them to my colleagues. I will forecast next steps and share them with the Trustees team.

As my time with Trustees comes to a close, I start to look forward to the next chapter. I will keep charting my path in Alaska, so this isn’t a goodbye. It’s more of a “see you later” but without my lawyer hat on. I will see all of you hiking in the Chugach, protesting the Pebble mine, or enjoying coffee at Snow City when winter finally sets in.

Leaving this place a little better

What we do, after all, is connected. We may be individually fighting for issues that are close to our hearts, whether that focuses on wilderness, our communities, or animals, but collectively, we are all fighting to leave this place a little better than when we started. Following Gandhi’s wise words, we are all trying to be the change we hope to see in the world.

Keep fighting for change friends. I know I will.

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