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The National Wildlife Refuge System and the Hallmarks of Modern Organic Legislation

166 Pages Posted: 21 Jul 2006  

Robert Fischman

Indiana University Maurer School of Law


This article explores the origins and precise meaning of the term "organic act," which is widely used in public land law. The evolution in the meaning of the term reflects larger shifts in the role of legislation in public resource management. The article illustrates this with an analysis of the 1997 Refuge Improvement Act, a substantial revision of the charter for the Refuge System and the first major statute governing public land management enacted since the 1970s.

The Refuge System's "dominant use" regime is an important model for sustainable resource management. The article describes this regime in the context of the unique purpose, hierarchy of dominant uses, and substantive management mandates under which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service administers the national wildlife refuges. In addition, the article provides a critique of the planning, compatibility, and biological integrity, diversity and environmental health policies that the Service has promulgated to guide management of the refuges.

Keywords: wildlife refuges, organic act, Fish and Wildlife Service, public lands, public land management

Suggested Citation

Fischman, Robert, The National Wildlife Refuge System and the Hallmarks of Modern Organic Legislation. Ecology Law Quarterly, Vol. 29, p. 457, 2002; Indiana Legal Studies Research Paper. Available at SSRN:

Robert Fischman (Contact Author)

Indiana University Maurer School of Law ( email )

211 S. Indiana Avenue
Bloomington, IN 47405
United States

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