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Travel Log Part 2: Dan Rohlf Teaches Environmental Law in South Korea for the Summer

July 18, 2016

I’m at the end of my three week comparative environmental law class here at Kangwon National University’s law school in Chuncheon, South Korea. My wife is flying in today to join me for a week of travel around the country to get to know other parts of Korea. 

Our class started off the week with a field trip. During my forays around the area on my bike I put together a few places I thought would be worthwhile to visit. Of course they centered around river ecosystems – and the dams that affect them. I’ve been struck by the parallels between problems with aquatic ecosystems in Korea and the Northwest. The Han River (South Korea’s largest) is – like the Columbia – today merely a connected set of reservoirs rather than a real river. In fact, we looked at a diagram of the Han’s stair-stepped reservoirs at one of the dams we visited Monday that looks almost exactly like the diagram of the Columbia reservoirs I point out on field trips to Bonneville Dam.

Like the Northwest, Korea also has a number of salmonids – including masu salmon and lenok, which are considered a “national treasure” – that have of course been seriously depleted or almost extinguished by the country’s 18,000 dams. The dams we saw had no fish passage facilities. And much as in the Columbia Basin, dams have heated the water – killing fish and causing algae blooms that threatened the drinking water of millions of people.

I taught a class about citizen suits in the United States, as well as spent our last class describing one of my Earthrise cases to illustrate environmental litigation in the United States. Traveling to other countries always makes me thankful for the rights everyday citizens and organizations enjoy in the United States to help enforce the law and even challenge decisions by the government. Such rights are virtually non-existent here in Korea.

I’ve enjoyed a few additional bike trips, including one over the weekend with some good climbs sandwiched around a yummy bowl of noodle soup for lunch. And of course I’ve spent considerable time each morning catching up on the previous day’s stage of the Tour de France. The only thing I’ve really hated about this trip is having to forego watching Tour stages live almost throughout most of July. Allez!

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