The Risk of Curtailment under the Colorado River Compact

New Study of Colorado River Cutback Risks by GWC Senior Fellow, Anne Castle and University of New Mexico Water Resources Program Director, John Fleck

With a credible risk that declines in the Colorado River’s flow could force water curtailments in coming decades in Colorado and the rest of the Upper Colorado River Basin, communities need to think about what kind of insurance is needed, a new report argues.

A repeat of drought conditions seen in the first decade of the 20th century could nearly empty the Upper Basin’s primary storage reservoirs. “While the risk of that happening remains low in the short-term, the threat increases substantially over time, and regardless of the time frame, the consequences could be dire,” said Anne Castle, the study’s lead author – a loss of economic activity, jobs, income, and community benefits in cities and rural communities that depend on the water. “The chances that my house will burn down are low, but the result would be disastrous. So I buy insurance,” said Castle, a senior fellow at the Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy and the Environment at the University of Colorado Law School. “The question is – What kind of insurance against the risk of Colorado River water curtailment should water users buy?”

Castle will be discussing the study at the Upper Colorado River Basin Water Forum Nov. 13 at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction.

The report, written with University of New Mexico Water Resources Program Director John Fleck, connects the latest hydrology and climate science with an analysis of the legal framework governing the Colorado River’s allocation.

Drawing on water supply analyses by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and independent experts, the study finds that the risks are significant:

• A recent Bureau of Reclamation analysis found that a repeat of the conditions of the drought of the early 2000s could, in fewer than five years, drain Lake Powell to levels at which it would be unable to generate electricity.

• Water supply simulations commissioned by a group of western Colorado water agencies found a greater than one in three chance that flows could drop so far in the next decade that the ability of the Upper Colorado River Basin states – Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, and New Mexico – to meet their legal obligations to deliver Colorado River to downstream users in Nevada, Arizona,California, and Mexico would be in grave jeopardy.

Those hydrologic realities collide with legal institutions designed nearly a century ago that allocated far more water than the river has, without clear rules for handling sustained low flows.

The result, the report found, is significant risk of shortfall combined with uncertainty about whose water supplies would be cut, and by how much.

This suggests a need to prepare now, so communities are not blindsided, the report’s authors write.

Options include:

• Negotiating legal agreements among the Colorado River Basin states to clarify rules for sharing shortages

• Setting up voluntary, temporary, compensated water conservation programs now to bank conserved water as a hedge against risk

• Waiting – not taking proactive action, but rather letting the chips fall where they may, an option the authors warn is high stakes poker

The authors caution against litigation against the Lower Basin states of Arizona, California, and Nevada as a path to settling the issues. Such litigation could drag on for many years, creating uncertainty and hindering the types of collaborative agreements that have kept the River sustainable so far, they argue.

Full paper: The Risk of Curtailment under the Colorado River Compact

Risk of Curtailment Summary

12th Annual Schultz Lecture in Energy

Energy as a Locally Desirable Land Use

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Professor Hannah Wiseman  

Florida State University College of Law

Energy generation is a classic example of a locally undesirable land use (LULU). Everyone needs energy, but many residents fervently oppose proposals to build a wind farm on a local mountaintop or hydraulically fracture a gas well near their neighborhood. The response is therefore typically a “not in my back yard,” or NIMBY, argument. But changes in technology, markets, and the law are making energy different from other LULUs. These changes allow communities to make more choices about the types of energy they prefer and to better address concerns about undesirable energy development within their locality. From a technological perspective, advances in energy storage and distributed (on-site) energy generation mean that large generating equipment and transmission lines can sometimes be avoided in places where there is strong opposition to these land uses. Technological changes such as horizontal drilling also allow oil and gas companies to locate miles from the target formation, thus avoiding certain surface locations. (Pipelines are still a challenge, though.) In terms of markets, energy development is moving towards economically competitive distributed solar and mid-scale renewable generation coupled with battery storage—also aided by subsidies and mandates. Finally, a range of legal solutions, such as community choice aggregation, updated building and zoning codes, locally-applicable taxes on hydraulically fractured wells, and bonding requirements increasingly empower communities to better align energy development with residents’ preferences, or, at minimum, to better address the damages of energy development.

Event Video


The Law of the River, 2019

By Colorado Law Graduates Eric Dude, Marisa Hazell, and Shelby Krantz

The Law of the Colorado River seminar, taught by Professor Sarah Krakoff, is a deep-dive into the American West’s most important resource – the water of the Colorado River. We studied every aspect of the river and its management; the Colorado River Compact, the two major dams at Glen Canyon and Boulder Canyon, Tribal water rights and the Tribes’ involvement in the development of the modern Law of the River, how management is changing in response to aridification in the West, and more. Unlike many other law school courses, the bulk of the course is not about legal arguments in appellate courtrooms. Instead, it focuses on how the stakeholders who rely on Colorado River water have negotiated throughout the last century to prop-up an allocation scheme that promises too much from a river that provides less water every year. To cap off the seminar, we took a two-week trip down the Colorado River’s mainstem through the entire Grand Canyon from Lee’s Ferry to Pearce Ferry…

When our bus pulled up to Lee’s Ferry on May 7, we caught our first glimpse of the river we had been studying so closely for the last four months. It was clear and frigid-cold. Just hours before our arrival, this water had been released from the bottom of Glen Canyon Dam, where all of the silt the river carried from the Colorado Plateau settled behind its seven-hundred foot high concrete walls. We settled into our boats (wooden dories) and began our course west as the Kaibab Limestone—the layer of rock that makes up the rim of the Grand Canyon—rose out of the water. For the next two weeks, we would watch this layer rise thousands of feet into the air above us, as each successive layer beneath it added new colors and textures to our canyon landscape.

These two weeks on the river are, in many ways, reducible to some meaningful numerical figures:

14 days;

277 river miles;

Over 100 rapids;

5 dory boats;

5 guides;

12 newly minted JDs;

3 rising 3Ls;

2 conferred LLMs;

2 Colorado Law professors;

1 Public interest lawyer

2 Colorado Law alumni donors.

But the reducible parts of this trip only provide the barest outline of what we experienced. The story is more satisfyingly filled in, as are most stories in life, by the uncountable:

Waiting to climb behind a limestone waterfall onto a moss-clad ledge to jump into a pool of warm, cerulean spring water, and the cheers that erupted as each of us did so in turn (including one epic belly flop);

The deep relaxation brought on by a warm, sunny lunch break after hours of shivering through cold wind and rain;

The ease of existing in a world not overburdened by connection—two weeks of cell-service-less bliss—and the creativity that flowed from the space created;

The validation of solidifying connections with old friends and creating connections with new ones, and the sweet exhaustion of hours of belly-laughing and late-night sing alongs;

The panic of realizing on Day 8 that we might run out of beer—and the calm when it all worked out;

The pure joy of riding through rapids with successive twenty-five-foot waves, and that of making it through unscathed;

The incredibly fleeting feeling of cleanliness and refreshment after braving a cold bath in the river;

The pride we felt during our river-side graduation ceremony, and the gratitude of sharing it intimately with important mentors and close friends; and, importantly,

The pure awe of experiencing a new and unmatched beauty around every bend in the river through the entire length of the Grand Canyon.

Each person on this trip, undoubtedly, could add pages of their own to this list. While some of these feelings are shared among us, each person took their own important lessons from the trip. Some of us were inspired to add new routines to our personal lives to emulate what we enjoyed on the river—more time dedicated to journaling, reading, or quiet contemplation. Others were encouraged to get back out for more river trips, more climbing, more hiking. And we each felt driven to prioritize time outside away from the grind in our careers in order to ground ourselves and recharge.

The academic insights were just as numerous and uniquely impactful. Spending the entire semester learning about the history of policy and law on the Colorado River fundamentally changed the experience of rafting down the canyon from merely an immersion in nature to an immersion in history and culture. To us, the trip wasn’t just through Grand Canyon National Park; it was through the heart of a river that has always sustained the people of the Southwest. 

As we traveled from Lees Ferry to Pearce Ferry, it was inspiring to run the same rapids as John Wesley Powell and know the hardship his crew faced in the very same spaces. It was humbling to see petroglyphs from centuries ago and picture the tribes that inhabited the canyon before colonization, while at the same time understanding the law and policy that pushed them onto reservations to facilitate western expansion and public lands development. And as our guides read the rapids based on water flows from the Glen Canyon Dam and told stories of higher levels, we understood which government forces were impacting the water we floated on and how the communities that depended on energy and water from the dam were growing because of it (for better or worse).

Watching the moon rise over canyon walls each night, we pictured those before us who had done the same: American Indian tribal members, adventurers, policy makers, and fellow rafters. Each with their own perspective on the canyon and how it should be utilized or preserved. All who had, in their own way, influenced how we were experiencing the canyon. Rafting with this context allowed us to understand how we, as students passionate about protecting spaces like the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon, would be a part of this long connected history. That is, how our future careers are not just about the issues of today or the present state of nature, but build on the fabric of the past and the changes that the law has brought to these landscapes.

Through three years of law school and grueling office internships, our work can feel very detached from the communities and spaces the law impacts. Somewhere along the way, we all get caught up in the culture of law school and the compulsion to always do more, and we lose touch with our base motivations. Many of us came to law school because we wanted to solve problems for communities and environments with compassion and insight, not merely engage in the rote application of legal rules. Rafting the Grand Canyon with the knowledge we gained through this seminar will allow us to do just that. And in the grandeur of billions of years of history displayed through striking rock layers, the trip made us feel a little less small in the world and more connected to it all.

At mile 210 of the Grand Canyon, Professor Krakoff gave us our commencement speech in our chair circle on the beach while Andy, one of our guides, played “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” on his guitar. In that moment, it was impossible not to feel grateful to have come to Colorado Law and been given the opportunity to have this experience as a capstone to our legal education and a catalyst to our legal careers. The trip gave each of us a renewed sense of wonder and purpose. It is the ideal energizing experience to take with us into our careers. We gained perspective on how we wanted to prioritize our lives to ensure they will be meaningful—in our legal careers, as advocates, and as people. We will forever remember the inspiration of the trip, the amazing connections we made together, and the joyful adventure we shared. rful

Attacks on the Antiquities’ Act (2019 National Preservation Law Conference)

Professor Mark Squillace Luncheon Keynote

Professor Mark Squillace

The 2019 National Preservation Law Conference was held on Tuesday, June 25 in Washington, D.C. The conference is put on by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in partnership with Georgetown University Law Center. This intense one-day summit provided a highly focused look into historic and cultural preservation law, highlighting recent and influential developments in the field. Attendees were able to gain knowledge and skills to effectively advocate and champion key preservation issues. This year’s speakers were all national legal experts on a wide variety of topics, including federal level regulations, legal tools for the built environment, religious properties, the Antiquities Act, and climate change.

Professor Mark Squillace from the University of Colorado Law School dove deep into attacks on the Antiquities Act from our past, present, and postulates on the future impacts on this important legal precedent.

Attacks on the Antiquity Act (Video)

#PreservationForum

40th Annual GWC Summer Conference

Charting a Better Course for the Colorado River: Identifying the Data and Concepts to Shape the Interim Guidelines Renegotiation

Thursday, June 6th and Friday, June 7th, 2019

On June 6-7, 1869, John Wesley Powell’s expedition down the Colorado was prepping for passage through the Canyon of Lodore, an arduous journey that ultimately cost the expedition a ship and a third of the expedition’s provisions. Exactly 150 years later we gear up for a journey through Colorado River rapids of a different kind: How best to navigate through the upcoming negotiation of the new Interim Guidelines. The existing Interim Guidelines (IG)—which expire after 2026—have been instrumental in slowing reservoir declines, delaying curtailments, and establishing a collaborative environment for subsequent innovations, but truly sustainable water management is still an unrealized goal. With the help of emerging drought contingency plan (DCP) programs, is the new negotiation (IG 2.0) the last best opportunity to craft a lasting solution to the river’s broken water budget?  If so, what data, concepts, frameworks, and principles are key to success? 

Event Program

Day One Video

Day Two Video

Speaker Presentations

Audio File Day One

Audio File Day Two

Energy Policy in the Age of Emergency Governance: New White Paper from Sharon Jacobs and Ari Peskoe

By Ari Peskoe, Sharon Jacobs

See the full white paper here: Energy Emergencies vs. Manufactured Crises: The Limits of Federal Authority to Disrupt Power Markets by Ari Peskoe and Sharon Jacobs

We live in an age of governance by emergency. In February, President Trump declared a national emergency to build a wall on the southern border after lawmakers repeatedly denied his funding requests. Next, he declared a national economic emergency to prevent U.S. firms from doing business with the Chinese technology company Huawei. Most recently, he invoked a national emergency to sell arms to Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Jordan without Congressional authorization.

These invocations are each significant. But they are also piecemeal, making them even more dangerous than a more comprehensive power grab. Each individual emergency declaration may appear justifiable, or at least insufficiently threatening to warrant dramatic response. Before long, however, we may find that the executive has come to rely on emergency invocation as a tool of governance in peacetime.

We fear that the electricity industry may be next in line for governance by emergency. Since early 2017, the Administration has sought to support certain unprofitable coal (and sometimes nuclear) power plants. The Administration’s justifications for bailing out decades-old power generators are a moving target, and have included reliability, a nebulous concept called “resilience,” and, most recently, national security.

Make no mistake: power system reliability is vitally important, and the electric system must be able to recover from both routine and extraordinary shocks. We do not deny that natural disasters and physical- or cyber-attacks are real threats. Our disagreement is with the Administration’s flirtation with statutory emergency authorities to remake the energy system.

In a jointly authored paper released today, we make two primary arguments. First, the electric power sector is not in crisis. Despite recent closures of coal-fired power plants, interstate power networks operate reliably, and the nation has more than enough generation capacity to meet demand. A mix of federally regulated market rules and reliability standards, including standards related to physical and cyber security, as well as industry protocols and state oversight, keeps the system in balance.

Second, we argue that statutory emergency authority in the energy space is highly circumscribed. We look at four statutes: the Federal Power Act, the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, the National Energy Act of 1978, and the Defense Production Act. With respect to the first three statutes, emergency authorities may only be invoked in the face of an actual threat to the grid. These statutes permit a narrow range of actions tied to the particular emergency, and their authorities terminate upon the emergency’s end (or, in some cases, sooner). The Defense Production Act enables government subsidy of private sector goods and services, but only where deemed critical to national defense.

One thing is clear: these statutes are not roving licenses to advantage particular types of generation. Over the past two years, the Trump Administration has attempted to invent a crisis in order to funnel support to ailing coal-fired generators. Its rationales are unrelated to the public interest and unsupported by the government’s own research. Most recently, Secretary Perry has suggested that multiple statutory authorities might be combined to achieve these ends. But as we explain in the paper, addition of these statutory authorities does not create anything greater than the sum of their parts.

Lawmakers, regulators, and industry actors are confronting genuine questions about adapting the power system to modern challenges, from introducing greater levels of renewable generation to mitigating climate impacts. These complex challenges are properly dealt with in the context of existing reliability frameworks and established stakeholder processes. They are not the sort of questions that lend themselves to effective resolution by reflexive reaction to imagined emergencies.

Sharon Jacobs is an Associate Professor, University of Colorado School of Law and Board Member Getches-Wilkinson Center

Ari Peskoe is the Director, Electricity Law Initiative, Harvard Law School Environmental and Energy Law Program

6th Annual Clyde O. Martz Winter Symposium

The Changing Landscape of Public Lands                                                                          

Thursday, February 28 and Friday, March 1, 2019

Event Program

The Symposium opened Thursday evening with a look at natural resources challenges at the State level, including the future of oil and gas regulations and western water issues. 

On Friday, we turned to federal issues.  As the Trump administration enters the second half of the President’s term in office, the time is ripe for an exploration of the past, present, and future of public lands law. The administration’s management of public lands has become a flashpoint for many of the controversies of our day. These efforts intersect with numerous policies and an array of legal issues – from the constitutional authority of the President – to regulatory design.  We are joined by scholars, former political appointees, and practitioners across a range of specialties to address these issues in a manner that has broad practical import for policymakers, litigators, the outdoor recreation industry, and those who enjoy our public lands.  In her keynote address, former Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell will speak about the current state of public lands management.

The Getches-Wilkinson Center is hosted the 2019 Martz Winter Symposium in collaboration with the Colorado Law Review and the Colorado Natural Resources, Energy & Environmental Law Review.  It is our hope that these dialogues and the forthcoming law review articles will generate solutions that can be implemented by practitioners on the ground and will inform future lawyers entering the field.

Day One Video: Armchair Discussion with Dan Gibbs, Director-Colorado Department of Natural Resource

Day Two Video: The Changing Landscape of Public Lands

11th Annual Schultz Lecture in Energy

Climate and Energy Law in the Trump Administration 

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Jody Freeman
Harvard Law School, Archibald Cox Professor of Law
Director, Environmental and Energy Law Program

Professor Freeman discusses the major policy reversals on climate and energy during the Trump administration and describe their implications and legal vulnerabilities. Among other things, she covers the administration’s rules freezing fuel efficiency standards, rescinding and replacing the clean power plan, and rolling back methane standards.

“An Odd Way to Read a Preemption Statute:” The Atomic Energy Act, Virginia Uranium, Inc. v. Warren, and the Dine Natural Resource Protection Act

By Colorado Law Student Erin Hogan

The history of uranium extraction within Navajo Nation is fraught with environmental and cultural conflict and controversy. Thousands of Navajo men worked in the uranium mines from 1944 until 1989, and the largest spill of radioactive material occurred on Navajo land in 1979. In 2005, the Navajo Council passed the Dińe Natural Resource Protection Act (DNRPA), banning all uranium mining and processing on Navajo land. Although Virginia Uranium, Inc. v. Warren, currently before the Supreme Court, questions the ability of state and local governments to regulate uranium, the DNRPA is firmly grounded in tribal sovereignty, economic concerns, and traditional Navajo law. It should remain on solid legal footing even if the Court accepts the plaintiffs’ claim that the Virginia state ban is preempted by the Atomic Energy Act (AEA).

The AEA gives the federal Nuclear Regulatory Committee (NRC) regulatory authority over the production and handling of source materials, byproducts, and waste. This includes uranium processing, storage, and transportation, the construction and operation of nuclear facilities, and in situ leaching, a technique which combines initial processing steps with extraction. However, the NRC has exclusive power only in the field of radiation safety; states are free to regulate such activities for “purposes other than protection against radiation hazards.” In the landmark Pacific Gas & Electric Co. v. State Energy Resources Conservation & Development Commission (PG&E), the Supreme Court held that this allowed California to regulate nuclear power plant construction for economic reasons, declining to second-guess its stated legislative purpose. Uranium mining, with the exception of in situ leaching, is regulated solely by tribal, state, and local governments, regardless of purpose. The NRC has expressly disavowed any authority over uranium mines, repeatedly affirming that their interest starts only when the ore leaves the ground.

The DNRPA mirrors this statutory scheme by distinguishing between uranium mining and uranium processing. It is thoroughly grounded in traditional Navajo beliefs, economic considerations, and principles of tribal sovereignty rather than radiation safety concerns. It starts by defining the “wise and sustainable use of . . . natural resources” as “a matter of paramount governmental interest . . . and a fundamental exercise of Navajo tribal sovereignty.” It then anchors the uranium ban in traditional Navajo law and culture: “the Fundamental Laws of the Diné . . . warn that certain substances . . . that are harmful to the people should not be disturbed, and the people now know that uranium is one such substance, and therefore . . . its extraction should be avoided as traditional practice and prohibited by Navajo law.”

Finally, the DNRPA discusses economic considerations, the ground on which the Court upheld California’s regulations in PG&E, finding that:

the mining and processing of uranium ore . . . has created substantial and irreparable economic detriments to the Nation and its people in the form of lands lost to permanent disposal of mining and processing wastes, lands left unproductive and unusable . . . surface water and ground water left unpotable . . . Navajo workers who lost thousands of person-years . . . as a result of their mining-induced illnesses and deaths . . . . The Navajo Nation Council finds that there is a reasonable expectation that future mining and processing of uranium will generate further economic detriments to the Navajo Nation.

These “detriments,” while linked to health and safety, are measurable in purely economic terms. It would be difficult to disentangle “radiation hazards” from economic, environmental, and cultural considerations, but the text of the DNRPA states its valid and permissible purposes without reference to radiation.

As the Court recognized in PG&E, “inquiry into legislative motive is often an unsatisfactory venture. What motivates one legislator to vote for a statute is not necessarily what motivates scores of others.” A hunt for improper motive would be neither appropriate nor useful in this context, but it is just such an analysis that a mining company has asked the Supreme Court to undertake in Virginia Uranium, Inc. v. Warren.

In 1978, the largest known uranium deposit in the United States was discovered in Virginia, sparking citizen safety concerns and inspiring an indefinite state-wide moratorium on uranium mining.The Virginia ban does not extend to processing, transportation, or storage. No language about purpose or reference to radiation hazards appear in the ban as currently published, which states that “permit applications for uranium mining shall not be accepted by any agency of the Commonwealth . . . until a program for permitting uranium mining is established.” Such a program has yet to be established. Virginia Uranium claims that the ban is preempted as an impermissible attempt to regulate radiation hazards. After Virginia Uranium’s losses in the district and appellate courts, the Supreme Court heard oral argument on November 5, 2018.

As the NRC lacks authority over mining, legislative purpose would seem irrelevant: the AEA prohibits only regulation of enumerated activities for “protection against radiation hazards.” Virginia Uranium, however, claims that the ban on mining is a de facto ban on uranium processing and storage, both NRC-regulated activities.It further argues that the reference to “purpose” in AEA compels the Court to determine whether the “real” legislative purpose for the statute was permissible, and suggests an analysis of text and legislative history to decide whether it would have been enacted absent an impermissible concern with radiation safety. The argument was met with evident skepticism from the majority of the Justices, who expressed concern with the “methodological, epistemological, and federalism questions” raised by this approach to preemption.

The United States as amicus curiae advocated a more moderate approach, arguing that Virginia need only articulate a plausible, non-preempted rationale for the ban but had failed to do so. Were the Court to adopt this theory, it would likely be a narrow ruling; many states regulate uranium only under their general mining statutes, which have clearly non-radiation-related purposes. The DNRPA, however, is specific to uranium and goes farther than the Virginia ban by explicitly barring both mining and processing.

While at first glance it seems vulnerable, the DNRPA could likely stand under either preemption theory. It addresses mining and processing separately, indicating an intent to prohibit uranium mining as an independently undesirable activity. Even if the uranium processing ban was successfully challenged, the mining prohibition could stand, as it is specific to an activity unregulated by the NRC. Further, the long and well-documented history of uranium processing on Navajo land provides a strong economic argument against milling and tailings storage. The clear instruction of Dińe Natural Law to “to respect, preserve and protect” the land and other living beings is still more compelling.

As discussed above, the DNRPA articulates plausible, non-preempted purposes as required under the United States’ theory. Even should the Court adopt the petitioners’ pretextual analysis, the DNRPA rests on a firmer legal and historical base than Virginia’s ban. The environmental and economic impacts of uranium extraction on the Navajo Nation are sadly well-established, and questioning the validity of Dińe Natural Law would be misguided. Both text and the legislative history of the DNRPA strongly suggest that it would have been passed absent radiation hazard concerns. It should withstand preemption challenges, and could offer guidance to other tribal, state, or local governments seeking to regulate uranium extraction.

Erin Hogan is a rising 2L at Colorado Law and a Staff Writer for the Colorado Natural Resource, Energy, and Environmental Law Review

How the United States is Combatting International Deforestation Through Trade

By Colorado Law Student Stone Macbeth

For years, illegal deforestation and logging has consistently wiped out natural habitats and indigenous peoples’ communities, put various animals around the world in danger, and decreased the world’s oxygen levels. As noted in a report issued by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species and Wildlife, illegal deforestation and logging is still a major enterprise in countries such as Russia, Brazil, and Honduras. Some countries around the world, such as Australia and members of the European Union, have started to implement legislation and policy to try and restrict the flow of illegally obtained lumber—and the United States is in the fight.

Conservation in the United States began with the philosophy of Henry David Thoreau and the science of George Perkins Marsh in the mid-nineteenth century. Amateur taxonomy and public interest in preserving wild animal populations for hunting, along with an interest in growing agriculture, gave rise to a progressive movement. Part of this movement culminated in 1900, when Iowa Congressman John Lacey proposed the Lacey Act, which President William McKinley signed into law shortly thereafter. At first, the Lacey Act was only concerned with the domestic trade of wildlife and fish that had been illegally taken, transported, possessed, or sold across state lines. The law was primarily aimed at curbing the introduction of potentially invasive bird species. While these ideals are still important to the American people, Congress has more recently utilized the Lacey Act to expand wildlife protection.

Although the Lacey Act has been amended several times—in 1969, 1981, and 1988—Congress’ most recent amendment in 2008 extended the Act’s protection to plants. The Act now encompasses an expansive collection of plants, including “any wild member of the plant kingdom, including roots, seeds, parts or product thereof, including trees from either natural or planted forest stands.” By expressly including trees, the 2008 amendment also prohibits importation of any goods or lumber derived from illegally obtained trees.

The few cases litigated under the 2008 amendment have relayed a strong and important message to American companies and those abroad—the United States will not tolerate the importation of illegally obtained lumber. One of the more famous cases is commonly known as “the Gibson raid.” In 2011, Gibson Brands Inc., a respected American guitar company known for making high quality guitars, had one of their warehouses raided by the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The FBI had been notified that Gibson was building guitars using illegally obtained ebony from Madagascar, and illegally-obtained wood from India. Gibson officials denied ever knowing that the company was involved in the international trade of protected lumber, and the case ultimately ended in a settlement. As reported by Andrew Revkin at the New York Times, Gibson agreed to “pay a $300,000 fine, make a $50,000 contribution to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and forfeit wood valued at $261,000 seized in a prior 2009 government raid on its Nashville facilities.” While having to pay over $350,000 in fines and contributions may only be a drop in the bucket for a company as large as Gibson, this case was a major wake-up call to American companies. The willingness of the United States’ government to go after such a longstanding and respected American company showed that the 2008 Amendment to the Lacey Act was going to be taken seriously.

While the Gibson raid certainly caused a stir, the most substantial crackdown came in Kiken v. Lumber Liquidators Holdings, Inc. According to the Department of Justice, Lumber Liquidators was convicted of violating the Lacey Act for illegally importing protected wood from China to build hardwood flooring in 2016. The wood it imported into the United States was manufactured in China but had been illegally obtained from an area of Russia that provided habitat for the “last remaining Siberian Tigers and Amur leopards in the world.”The amount of timber Lumber Liquidators imported was substantial. In total, it was required to pay “$13.5 million, including $7.8 million in criminal fines, $969,175 in criminal forfeiture and more than $1.23 million in community service payments.” Additionally, the government imposed a five-year probation term on the company allowing customs inspectors and state officials to consistently monitor the company’s operations. This case was the first time that the United States government was able to show how strong the Lacey Act could be when enforced. Since this case, there has been no other substantial litigation regarding illegally imported lumber.

The United States has shown that it takes illegal logging and deforestation very seriously. The amendment of the Lacey Act, along with the litigation pursued under its provisions, has sent a very direct message to American companies—illegal logging will not be tolerated. We can only hope that the implementation of the Lacey Act will remain strong, and that the United States will continue to hold its companies to a higher standard. The world needs its trees, and the 2008 amendment to the Lacey Act is a small but substantial step in ensuring it keeps them.

Stone Macbeth is a rising 2L at Colorado Law and a Staff Writer for the Colorado Natural Resource, Energy, and Environmental Law Review