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EPI Alumna Makes History in Held vs. State of Montana Climate Trial

Growing up amidst the stunning landscapes of Missoula, Montana, Grace Gibson-Snyder’s connection to nature started as early as she can remember. The Missoula Valley boasts whitewater rivers, rugged mountain terrain, and access to pristine wilderness unlike any other metropolitan area in the United States. Scars of ancient Glacial Lake Missoula’s waterlines are visible along hillsides in town, serving as a visual reminder of the area’s geologic history. Grace recalls the environment as a constant backdrop in her daily life, fostering a deep-rooted appreciation for the natural world. Her childhood connection to nature is one of the reasons she eventually joined 15 other young people in suing the State of Montana.


Photo by Robin Loznak, Courtesy of Our Children’s Trust


While her exposure to the outdoors was vast and ever-present in Missoula, it wasn’t until Grace was over two thousand miles from home that she dove into hands-on environmental education. In 2017, Grace joined her 8th-grade class on a Marine Ecology course with EPI Mexico. The coursework, instructor leadership, and cultural exchange with local students opened her eyes to the interconnectedness of ecosystems and the urgency of environmental stewardship.


“EPI genuinely solidified the scientific side of my interest in environmental ethics, which was really grounding for me getting into the policy and humanities side of environmentalism,” said Grace in an interview with Sierra, EPI’s Alumni Program Coordinator.

Not long after Grace returned to Montana, her leadership role in environmental advocacy began. She joined the Students Against Violating the Environment (SAVE) Club in high school, where she was introduced to a guest speaker from Our Children’s Trust. Our Children’s Trust uses legal and scientific expertise so youth can tell their stories in court, in the media, and on the world stage. After talking with her parents and exchanging logistic emails, 16-year-old Grace was poised to join 15 other young people in suing the State of Montana for violating their right to a clean and healthful environment. The case finally went to court in 2023 in what is now known as the historic Held vs. State of Montana climate trial. The judge ruled that the use and promotion of fossil fuels while ignoring climate change violates the plaintiffs’ constitutional right to a clean and healthful environment.


Photo by Robin Loznak, Courtesy of Our Children’s Trust

When asked what winning the trial means to her, Grace said “So much. On a legal level, it is an affirmation of our constitutional rights and the role the government has in protecting its people and Montana’s environment. On a cultural level, it reminds me of how tied to the environment Montanans are, and that Montanans will always come together to protect the environment.”

Photo by Robin Loznak, Courtesy of Our Children’s Trust


Reflecting on her journey, Grace emphasizes the pivotal role of her experiences with EPI in shaping her environmental ethic. While the scientific aspect was captivating, it was the human connections forged during her time in Mexico that left a lasting mark. These connections deepened her understanding of environmental issues while empowering her to navigate the world with a newfound confidence. As Grace continues her studies in Global Affairs and International Relations with a focus on Environmental Policy at Yale University, her journey stands as a testament to the power of youth activism and the enduring legacy of field-based education.


EPI is incredibly proud to be one of the first steps in Grace’s lifelong path of environmental advocacy and cannot wait to see what history she makes next.


Photo by Robin Loznak, Courtesy of Our Children’s Trust

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