Michelle  Bryan

Contact Information

Personal Summary

Professor Michelle Bryan teaches in the law school's Natural Resources & Environmental Law Program. Growing up in farming and ranching 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 as a gubernatorial appointee on the Small Business Compliance Assistance Advisory Council, which helps Montana small businesses with environmental compliance. She enjoys 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

Research interests include the protection of sacred waters and landscapes, state-tribal natural resources reconciliation, 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, and the role of public trust in water use.

Selected Publications

Books & Chapters

Montana Water Law (Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Foundation 2020) (with Judge Steve Brown and Chief Judge Russ McElyea).

Montana Chapter, The Law of Eminent Domain (ABA Publishing 2012).


A "Most Essential" Power: The Case for Comprehensive Tribal Sovereignty Over Land Use (work-in-progress with planned publication Spring 2023).

The Power of Reciprocity: How the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Water Compact Illuminates a Path Toward Natural Resources Reconciliation, 25 Water Law Review 227 (2022).

The Public Trust in Wildlife: Closing the Implementation Gap in Thirteen Western States, 50 Environmental Law Reporter 10909 (2020) (with Martin Nie & Nyssa Landres).

How the West is Won: Advancing Water Law for Watershed Health, 42 Public Land & Resources Law Review 82 (2020) (with Laura Ziemer, Timothy Hawkes, and Kevin Rechkoff).

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) (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).

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 and Environmental Law Sections, Association of American Law Schools (Executive Committee Member 2012-2014, 2017-2021)

Natural Resources and Water Law Sections, 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 2010-2020)

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

Interviewed in John Hook’s radio story “Who owns the most water rights in Montana?” on MTPR (Oct. 26, 2022).

Interviewed in Nick Mott’s radio story “Water is for fighting?” on MTPR (Mar. 7, 2022).

Interviewed on Eric Young’s Voices of Montana: “Unpacking the CSKT Water Compact” (Sept. 29, 2021).

Interviewed in Nick Mott’s radio story “Proposed Federal Water Rule Praised By Industry, Questioned By Scientists” on MTPR (Feb. 7, 2019).

Trump’s Plan to Dismantle National Monuments Comes with Steep Cultural and Ecological Costs,” The Conversation (May 3, 2017) (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

Second Annual Environmental Law Scholars Workshop at Starved Rock Lodge,

Hosted by Loyola University Chicago School of Law, Presenter: “The Essentiality of Comprehensive Land Use Authority in Tribal Sovereignty” (Chicago, IL 2022).


39th Public Land Law Conference, Conference Organizer and Moderator: “Voices: Amplifying the Next Generation of Environmental Advocacy” (2021).


Environmental Law CLE, Montana State Bar, Panelist: “Legal Updates for Environmental Law Practitioners” (Helena, MT 2017-2022).


NBI Land Use CLE, Presenter: “The Record in Land Use Decisions” (2021).


“The Third Way: Traditional Knowledge as Legal Innovation,” UM Innovation Factory 30-in-30 Series (2020).


Governor’s Montana Climate Solutions Council, Presenter: “Local Government Authority to Regulate for Climate and Water Supply” (Missoula, MT 2020).


Public Land Law Conference, Moderator: “Milking It for All It’s Worth: Waters & Fisheries in a Changing Climate” (ABIII, Missoula, MT 2019).


National Judicial College Dividing the Waters Surface Water-Groundwater Law Webinar, Presenter: “The Surface Water-Groundwater Connection: Law v. Science” (2019).


Environmental Law CLE, Montana State Bar, Panelist: “Waters of the United States” (Helena, MT 2019).


Celebrating a High Water Mark: A Montana Stream Access Law Symposium, Conference Organizer and Panelist: “What the Future May Hold for Stream Access” (ABIII, Missoula, MT 2018).


National Judicial College Dividing the Waters Seminar, Presenter: “Fundamentals of Water Law—A Comparative Study” (Reno, NV 2018).


Law, Planning and Wildfire in the Wildland-Urban Interface: The Future of Government and Governance of Disaster in the West, Presentation: “Building a Cohesive Strategy: The Role of Local Government” (Univ. of Idaho at Boise, 2018).


Natural Resources Law Teachers Conference, Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Foundation, Panel: "Water Policy, Adaptation, and Climate Change" (Banff, B.C., Summer 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" (University College Cork, Ireland, April 2016). 

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” (Louis D. Brandeis School of Law, February 2016).

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

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” (George Washington University, 2014).

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 (San Francisco, 2011).

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 (Beijing and Shanghai, China 2012 and 2017)

Instructor, US-Ireland Comparative Law Summer Program (Cork, Ireland 2021)

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


Honors / Awards

Awards and Honors

Extraordinary Ordinary Woman of MSU (2018)

Boehl Distinguished Lecture in Land Use Policy (2016)

Missoula Historic Preservation Award for Excellence (2011)

Margery Hunter Brown Teaching Award

NALSA Teaching Award

Garlington Lohn & Robinson Teaching Award