Ecological Concepts, Legal Standards, and Public Land Law: An Analysis and Assessment
46 Pages Posted: 28 Aug 2005 Last revised: 5 Feb 2013
As reflected in the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997 and the National Forest Management Act of 1976, undefined biodiversity mandates and related ecological concepts are increasingly appearing in the federal laws governing the public lands. The question arises whether such general statutory provisions can be translated into enforceable legal standards and policies. Both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Forest Service have promulgated extensive policies and rules incorporating new biodiversity and ecological integrity obligations into their planning and decision processes. This article assesses the effectiveness of these efforts, inquiring whether the agencies have established clear management priorities, embraced well-accepted ecosystem management principles, and ensured meaningful accountability. Despite several promising steps, the agencies have thus far been reluctant to adopt a rigorously prescriptive ecological management regime. Nonetheless, these nascent legally mandated excursions into biodiversity conservation and ecosystem management are providing valuable lessons in how to translate new scientific ideas into viable planning and management protocols on the public lands.
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