When I decided to research the history of environmental law teaching here at Harvard a few years ago, which took me back to David Cavers and into the 1950s, I also decided to follow the “natural resources” thread as well. What I discovered was that Harvard Law School’s first “environmental law professor” based on that broader view was Professor Roscoe Pound (later Dean Pound). Pound arrived at Harvard around 1910 from the University of Nebraska. Pound had a BA/Masters/PhD in Botany. I think he was the first PhD in Botany from the University of Nebraska. He was not a lawyer though he went to law school. His primary interests were mining law and water law.
Upon arriving at Harvard, Pound taught a course in the fall of 1911 in the “Law of Mining and Irrigation.” When he became Dean a few years later, he turned both subjects over to lecturers, one taught the mining law class and the other water law. Lucas Bannister, who taught the water law class, was a highly regarded expert in water law from Denver, Colorado. Bancroft Gherardi Davis was the lecturer on mining law. Each taught the class for a few decades and were highly acclaimed lawyers of their day.
Pound also wrote about water law. One of his most famous law review articles, Pound, The End of Law as Developed in Legal Rules and Doctrines, 27 Harv. L. Rev. (1914) concerns legal evolution and what Pound called “The Socialization of Law.” Pound used water law in his article as a primary example of law’s socialization, describing how the need to “protect the general social interest” in water’s reasonable use “is changing the whole water law of the western states.” He concluded, presciently, “It means that in a crowded world the social interest in the use and conservation of natural media has become more important than individual interests of substance.”
Pound was a complicated guy and some of his later thinking was far less glorious, and worse than that. But I came across the 1914 article when I first began law teaching (now a few years ago), and have always thought it worth passing on to my students. In some ways, it is reassuring. In other ways, very much not so, because it underscores how long the problems have been known and how hard it has proven to achieve the law reform necessary to address them. Climate change is the latest, of course.
For more on the first course, see here.