The Law of Fire: Reshaping Public Land Policy in an Era of Ecology and Litigation

85 Pages Posted: 2 Nov 2006

See all articles by Robert B. Keiter

Robert B. Keiter

University of Utah - S.J. Quinney College of Law


This article explores the relationship between law, fire, and resource management policy on the public lands. It offers an overview of federal fire policy, describing the evolution of that policy and how the current forest health debate has shaped policy options. It reviews and analyzes the legal framework governing fire policy on public lands, focusing on relevant organic legislation and site-specific statutes, the interface between environmental law and fire management including recent Healthy Forests Initiative reforms, the Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003, tort liability and other compensation doctrines, and the role of state law in shaping federal policy. It then places the fire policy debate in a broader public land policy context, arguing that the current legal framework is not fundamentally flawed though some reforms are necessary to better accommodate fire on the public domain. It concludes that clear legal standards and procedures are necessary to ensure legitimacy and promote accountability in the uncertain and risk-laden wildfire policy setting.

Keywords: environmental law, wildfire policy, resource management, public lands

Suggested Citation

Keiter, Robert B., The Law of Fire: Reshaping Public Land Policy in an Era of Ecology and Litigation. Environmental Law, Vol. 36, p. 301, 2006, U of Utah Legal Studies Paper No. 06-02, Available at SSRN:

Robert B. Keiter (Contact Author)

University of Utah - S.J. Quinney College of Law ( email )

383 S. University Street
Salt Lake City, UT 84112-0730
United States

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