Michelle  Bryan

Contact Information

Personal Summary

Professor Michelle Bryan teaches in the law school's Natural Resources & Environmental Law Program. Growing up in farming, ranching, and energy development communities in the West, Professor Bryan was drawn to the fields of natural resources and environmental law. Prior to joining the law faculty, she worked in private practice representing a variety of clients including local governments, private landowners, non-profits, developers, and affected neighbors and community groups. She brings this diversity of perspective to her scholarship and teaching. 

Outside of teaching, Professor Bryan served as a board member and past president of the Montana Justice Foundation and currently serves as a gubernatorial appointee on the Small Business Compliance Assistance Advisory Council, which helps Montana small businesses with environmental compliance. She enjoys fly fishing, camping, and exploring the vast spaces of the American West. Professor Bryan graduated from the University of Montana School of Law with high honors and served as an editor of the Montana Law Review. Before entering the legal profession, she was a policy specialist for the Montana Water Center in Bozeman, Montana.

Research Interests

Current research interests include the protection of sacred waters, local-federal land use collaboration, the relationship between land and water use, water rights legal systems, planning in an age of climate change, the balancing of environmental and land use rights, the role of public trust in water use, and comparative natural resource laws.

Selected Publications

Valuing Sacred Tribal Water Within Prior Appropriation, 57 Natural Resources Journal 139 (2017).

A Next, Big Step for the West (Part II): Model Water-Climate Enabling Legislation with Commentary, 31 Journal of Environmental Law & Litigation 243 (2016) (with students Zach Coccoli, Graham Coppes, and Dylan DesRosier).

Cause for Rebellion? Examining How Federal Land Management Agencies & Local Governments Collaborate on Land Use Planning, 6 Journal of Energy & Environmental Law 1 (2015) (with students Graham Coppes, Katelyn Hepburn, and Ross Keogh). 

Learning Both Directions: How Better Federal-Local Land Use Collaboration Can Quiet the Call for Federal Lands Transfers, 76 Montana Law Review 147 (2015). 

At the End of the Day: Are the West's General Stream Adjudications Relevant to Modern Water Rights Administration?, 15 Wyoming Law Review 461 (2015). 

Toward Engaged Scholarship, 33 Pace Law Review 821 (2013) (contributing author with John R. Nolon, Keith Hirokawa, et al.).

A Next, Big Step for the West: Using Model Legislation to Create Water-Climate Elements in Local Comprehensive Plans, 32 Washington Journal of Environmental Law & Policy 1 (2013).

Hitching Our Wagon to a Dim Star: Why Outmoded Water Codes and “Public Interest” Review Cannot Protect the Public Trust in Western Water Law, 32 Stanford Environmental Law Journal 283 (2013).

Montana v. Wyoming: An Opportunity to Right the Course for Coalbed Methane Development and Prior Appropriation, 5 Golden Gate University Environmental Law Journal 297 (2012).

Montana Chapter, The Law of Eminent Domain (ABA Publishing 2012), maintained at www.abanet.org/litigation/committees/condemnation/compendium.html.

A “Constant and Difficult Task”: Making Local Land Use Decisions in States with a Constitutional Right to a Healthful Environment, 38 Berkeley Ecology Law Quarterly 101 (2011).

The Role of Fish and Wildlife Evidence in Local Land Use Regulation, 30 Public Lands & Resources Law Review 107 (2009) (with students DarAnne Dunning and Melissa Hayes).                 

Was the Big Sky Really Falling? Examining Montana’s Response to Kelo v. City of New London, 69 Montana Law Review 79 (2008).


Natural Resources Law Section, Association of American Law Schools (Executive Committee Member 2012-2014, 2017-Present)

Natural Resources Law Section, Montana State Bar

Montana Justice Foundation (Board Member 2005-2012, President 2010-2012, Ex Officio Member 2013)

Montana Small Business Compliance Assistance Advisory Council (Gubernatorial Appointment 2010-Present)

Technical Advisory Panel for the Montana Department of Transportation online website – Montana Transportation and Land Use Resources for Growing Communities (2008-2010)

Professional Experience

In the Media

Trump’s Plan to Dismantle National Monuments Comes with Steep Cultural and Ecological Costs, The Conversation (with Mills and Zellmer).

Quoted in Hillary Posner, The Potential Big Impact of Trump's Clean Water Rollback, National Geographic (Mar. 22, 2017).

Interviewed in Eric Whitney's radio story "Trump Executive Order Targets Water Pollution Rule" on MTPR (Mar. 15, 2017).

Quoted in Peter Hayes, ARCO Ruling May Not Clarify Ongoing Contamination, Bloomberg-BNA (Sept. 4, 2015).

Quoted in Lars-Eric Hedberg, Montana Governor Signs Law Approving Pact With Tribes Resolving Water Rights Claims, Bloomberg-BNA (Apr. 28, 2015).


Selected Speaking Engagements

Natural Resources Law Teachers Conference, Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Foundation, Panel: "Water Policy, Adaptation, and Climate Change" (Banff, B.C., Summer 2017).

Environmental Law CLE, Montana State Bar, Panelist: Legal Updates for Environmental Law Practitioners (2017).

Law and the Environment 2016, Panelist, "Asserting Local Control: Examining the Phenomenon of Grassroots Regulation Over Unconventional Oil & Gas Development in the United States" (April 2016, University College Cork, Ireland). 

Boehl Distinguished Lecture in Land Use Policy, "Learning Both Directions: How Improved Federal – Local Land Use Coordination Can Quiet the Call for Federal Lands Transfers” (February 2016, Louis D. Brandeis School of Law).

Drought in the American West Symposium, Panelist, Urban Water Use & Drought Panel (2015, University of Oregon School of Law).

J.B. and Maurice C. Shapiro Environmental Law Symposium: The Role of Planning in Federal Land Management, Panelist, “A Comparative Study of Federal-Local Planning Approaches Across Federal Land Management Agencies” (2014, George Washington University).

16th Annual Community Lecture Series: Western Rivers: Connecting Landscapes & Livelihoods, Speaker, “Unseating the Lords of Yesterday: Water Law’s Historical Roots and Future Challenges” (2014). 

Plum Creek–College of Forestry Conference: Clean Water Act on Trial, Presenter and Moderator (2014).

Public Land Law–ABA/SEER Conference: Balancing Act and Paradigm Shift-The Role of Public Lands in America’s Energy Future, Panel Moderator, Lands: Updated Regulatory Approaches to Energy Development on Public Lands (2013).

AALS Annual Meeting, Environmental and Natural Resources Sections, Panelist, New Voices in Environmental Law Panel (2011, San Francisco).

Society of Environmental Journalists Conference, Lecturer and Panelist, “The Laws that Govern Land, Water, Rocks and Trees,” and “A Water Primer: Pollution, Rights, Species and Utilities” (2010). 

The Honorable James R. Browning Symposium: The Montana Constitution, Panelist, The Montana Constitution’s Clean & Healthful Environment Provisions (2010).

Montana Watershed Symposium, Panelist, Land Use & Water-Focusing on Exempt Wells (2010). 

The Honorable James R. Browning Symposium: Rural Law, Moderator, Stream Access Panel (2009).

Annual New West Conference on Real Estate and Development in the Northern Rockies, Lecturer, “An Immodest Proposal: Tying Land Use and Water Use Planning” (2007).

International Experience

Instructor, China Summer Abroad Program

Visiting Scholar, University College Cork School of Law, Ireland (Spring 2016)