Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Teaching (or not Teaching) the Law of Invasive Species

A few days ago, the New York Times’ Green Blog ran an interesting little story about bullfrogs.  The American bullfrog, it seems, is a particularly virulent invasive species, and the Times reported on a recent study had predicted expansions throughout much of Latin America, with ugly consequences for native species.

Burmese python-Everglades1If you follow environmental news at all—particularly from smaller-market newspapers that cover issues of regional interest—you see a lot of stories like this.  One day it’s bullfrogs in Latin America, then Eurasian milfoil in Midwestern lakes, then Burmese pythons in the Everglades, and once a month, it seems, it’s Asian carp on the cusp of a conquest of the Great Lakes.  The newspapers aren’t covering these stories just because they’re colorful, though flying fish and giant pythons probably do make good copy.  Instead, invasive species really are a pervasive and costly problem.  Indeed, finding an ecosystem management controversy that doesn’t involve invasive species is something of a challenge—they were part of every major water controversy I worked on in my years in practice—and multiple studies have found that they’re a leading threat to biodiversity and the cause of billions of dollars in economic costs

Asian-Carp-366x190w(1)But while invasive species are just about everywhere, and are causing all sorts of problems, they aren’t in our casebooks.  In a quick (and thoroughly unscientific) survey of the complementary copies clogging my bookshelves, I didn’t find one that includes any significant coverage of the law of invasive species.  Scarcity remains a popular topic; endangered species are everywhere in our curricula. But discussions of problems of unwanted abundance are much harder to find, and I wonder why. 

A few answers leap to mind.  Initially, any environmental, natural resources, or water casebook author faces a big challenge just fitting the traditional curriculum into a book, and many important subjects must get short shrift.  Surely that’s a partial explanation, though I’m still curious why invasive species never seem to make the cut.  Other possible reasons are the relatively small amount of federal law addressing invasive species and the apparent rarity, Asian carp aside, of invasive species litigation.  But if the se are primary reasons, I wonder if the rarity of invasive species teaching becomes something of a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Do we have a shortage of invasive species law, not because the problem is unimportant, but at least in small part because we don’t teach the subject, and do we not teach the subject because we have a shortage of law?

So, casebook authors and fellow professors, I’m curious: did you think about including invasive species in your environmental or natural resources casebook?  Have you added the subject into any of your courses?  If you’ve left it out, why?  And are there books or materials out there (I make no claim to have read every environmental law casebook, so apologies if you’ve written some wonderful teaching materials that I’ve missed) that do address the subject?

-Dave Owen

| Permalink

TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Teaching (or not Teaching) the Law of Invasive Species:


Hi Dave,

I enjoyed your post on invasive species. As a land protection attorney and environmental scholar, I subscribe to many online journals, blogs, and listservs that track invasive species. As you suggest, they are an enormous problem. My response thus far has been to address invasive species in law review articles, for example in "The Butterfly Effect: Conservation Easements, Climate Change, and Invasive Species," published in the Boston College Environmental Affairs Law Review and available for free download at:

If you or any of our other colleagues on this blog are interested in collaborating with me on future law review articles or books, please do contact me at:


James L. Olmsted

Posted by: James L. Olmsted | Nov 13, 2011 8:37:11 AM

Post a comment