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The Public Trust in Wildlife

Michael C. Blumm

Lewis & Clark Law School

Aurora Paulsen


December 13, 2012

Utah Law Review, 2013
Lewis & Clark Law School Legal Studies Research Paper No.

The public trust doctrine, derived from ancient property principles, is thought to mostly apply to navigable waters and related land resources. The doctrine supplies a mediating force to claims of both private ownership and unfettered government discretion over these resources, vesting the state with trust responsibility to ensure that the use of these resources promotes long-term sustainability. A related doctrine — sovereign ownership of wildlife — is also an ancient public property doctrine inherited from England. State ownership of wildlife has long defeated private ownership claims and enabled states to enact and implement wildlife conservation regulations. This paper claims that these two doctrines should be merged, and that state sovereign ownership of wildlife means that wildlife — like navigable waters — is held in trust for the public and must be managed for long-term sustainable use by future generations. Merging the doctrines would mean that state ownership would not only give states with the authority to manage their wildlife populations but also the duty to do so and would equip members of the public with standing to enforce the states’ trust duties in court. This paper shows that the public trust in wildlife has already been employed in California and in several other states, and suggests that it deserves more widespread judicial recognition, particularly — as we demonstrate — in view of the fact that no fewer than forty-seven states use trust or trust-like language in describing state authority to manage wildlife. We include an appendix citing the sources of the wildlife trust in all forty-seven states for reference.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 68

Keywords: environmental law, natural resources law, wildlife law, animal law, coastal law

JEL Classification: H82, K11, K32, N51, N52, Q22, Q26, Q28

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Date posted: August 9, 2013 ; Last revised: May 2, 2014

Suggested Citation

Blumm, Michael C. and Paulsen, Aurora, The Public Trust in Wildlife (December 13, 2012). Utah Law Review, 2013 ; Lewis & Clark Law School Legal Studies Research Paper No. . Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2189134 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2189134

Contact Information

Michael C. Blumm (Contact Author)
Lewis & Clark Law School ( email )
10015 S.W. Terwilliger Blvd.
Portland, OR 97219
United States
503-768-6824 (Phone)
503-768-6701 (Fax)
Aurora Paulsen
Independent ( email )
No Address Available
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