The public trust doctrine: Where ecology meets natural resources management

Raphael D. Sagarin, Mary Turnipseed

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


The public trust doctrine (PTD) is a legal concept with ancient roots, and it is increasingly being examined as a framework for modern conservation. At its core, the PTD is based on the idea that certain natural resources cannot be fairly or effectively managed by private owners. Rather, these resources should be held in trust by government, which must manage their consumptive use and protection on behalf of present and future citizens. Although historically the PTD applied to a limited set of natural resources such as shellfish beds and submerged lands, courts and legal scholars have expanded the definition of trust resources to include wildlife, oceans, and ecosystem services generally. The wide range of interpretations of the PTD is seen as both a weakness (because it leads to uncertainty in property ownership) and a strength (because it can adapt to accommodate emerging science about what it takes to protect ecosystems). ©

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)473-496
Number of pages24
JournalAnnual Review of Environment and Resources
StatePublished - Nov 2012


  • Environmental law
  • Sustainability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science(all)


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