A 2006 article published by Assistant Professor of Law Erin Ryan was among twenty selected as finalists for publication in the 2006 edition of the LAND USE AND ENVIRONMENTAL LAW REVIEW, published annually by Thomson West to recognize the best land use and environmental law articles published each year. The finalists were selected by a panel of forty reviewers.
Ryan's article, titled "New Orleans, the Chesapeake, and the Future of Environmental Assessment: Overcoming the Natural Resources Law of Unintended Consequences," appeared as the lead article in the University of Richmond Law Review Allen Chair Symposium on the state of Chesapeake Bay. In the article, Ryan explores how policies that inadvertently furthered the disappearance of wetlands fringing the Gulf Coast and Chesapeake Bay demonstrate the importance of better aligning environmental assessment techniques with the model of network connectivity demonstrated by complex adaptive systems. Complex adaptive systems-found not only in nature but also in economics, organizational behavior, developmental learning, game theory, and neuroscience-are characterized by interaction between components within a unified system that enables change to reverberate back and forth within the system, confounding more linear interpretations of cause and effect. Ryan argues that environmental intervention must follow assessment that takes full account of: (1) how the networked components of regional ecosystems work laterally; (2) how the systems work over ecologically meaningful periods of time; and most challenging, (3) how remote network factors may intervene from beyond the forward linear path of conventional causal assessment. As this third element is the least satisfied by conventional environmental assessment practices, Ryan proposes new assessment tools that draw from techniques in use by consumer products designers, particularly in the computer software industry.
Ryan joined the William & Mary law faculty in 2004. She is a graduate of the Harvard Law School, where she was a Notes Editor on the Harvard Law Review and a Hewlett Fellow at the Harvard Negotiation Research Project. A former law clerk to the Honorable James R. Browning of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, she has published on topics in dispute resolution, environmental law, and federalism. Prior to her appointment to the faculty, she practiced environmental, land use, and local government law in San Francisco at Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger and taught at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law. Prior to law school, Ryan was a forest ranger at the Mono Basin National Forest Scenic Area, east of Yosemite National Park.