Publication Title

Environmental Law Journal


public trust doctine

Document Type



The public trust doctrine is an ancient Roman legal doctrine that has been applied in both England and the United States. The doctrine traditionally addressed questions of public access to and use of commercially navigable waters for navigation, fisheries and various other uses of the underlying seabeds, lake bottoms, and riverbeds. In recent years, the public trust doctrine has been invoked to protect birds and other wildlife, water quality, ecological and environmental values, and different types of recreation. Although no public trust case has applied the doctrine to protect biodiversity per se, it seems clear by analogy to existing case law that the doctrine could be an effective tool for protecting biodiversity, particularly where the species at issue are aquatic or associated with riparian ecosystems. This article will examine why the public trust doctrine is important for the protection of biodiversity and what it might accomplish.

Included in

Water Law Commons



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