Natural Resources Law

  • Offered occasionally

NOTE: This course description is new for the 2015-2016 academic year. You may read the prior course description immediately below the new one. 


This course offers of view of natural resources law rich in history yet exposing students to the complexities of practicing natural resources law in the 21st century. The focus is not on federal public lands law (there is a specific course on that subject) but on natural resources conflicts on private lands under state regulation. This concentration is appropriate since 60 percent of the land in the United States is privately owned. The course examines both private and public rights in waterways (including the public trust doctrine), wetlands, water rights, wildlife, minerals, forests, grazing, recreation, and renewable resources, exploring the law’s consistency (or lack thereof) across diverse subject areas. For example, there are frequent comparisons to natural resources allocated on a first-in-time principle, as opposed to those dispensed according to notions of reasonable use. The course considers management regimes throughout, including non-governmental decision making. Another feature builds on common law doctrines introduced in the first year of law school, like trespass, nuisance, and servitude law, showing how they influence the use, development, and preservation of natural resources. The question of development vs. preservation is a persistent theme, as is the constitutional issue of constitutional takings of property in natural resources.

Grades are based on a 24-hour take-home examination and class participation, including participating in the course’s TWEN site forum.

NOTE: The below course description applies to the 2014-2015 academic year.


This three-credit survey course provides an introduction to federal natural resources law, with an emphasis on living resources. In a mixed lecture and seminar format, we will examine the themes and theoretical conflicts that underlie natural resource management, as well as the special qualities of natural resource problems that render management efforts so difficult.

Specific topics will include the legal treatment of wildlife and biodiversity, fisheries and marine resources, water resources, forests and rangelands, protected public lands, multiple use public lands, and energy. Throughout the course, we will probe the interplay between environmental, economic, cultural, and political factors in natural resource decision-making.

In lieu of a final exam, students will produce a 20-page final paper and participate in a weekly online discussion group. Students will also participate in a mid-semester Friday field trip (more details are available in the syllabus, which will be placed on reserve at the library). Environmental certificate and non-certificate students are all welcome in the course.