Habitat and Humanity: Public Lands Law in the Age of Ecology
Public lands law in this country has been gridlocked for a decade at the intersection of democracy and ecology. The public is still led to believe that the “conservation” versus “preservation” of our discrete, bounded parcels of public land is the central political issues and that what must happen for one set of values or another to triumph is that one or another faction capture those lands parcel-by-parcel and put them under its preferred legal regime. Experts and activists have transitioned from this philosophy to the open-textured, inclusive notions of “ecosystem” and “adaptive” management on which everyone agrees in the abstract but not in application. The public’s faith in its pluralist administrative state is very much contingent upon its faith in professional expertise, though, even as this whole arrangement becomes increasingly incompatible with any truly “ecosystemic” approach to public lands. Indeed, while active management and “ecological restoration” are probably truer frames of reference for public lands today, the only way these can even possibly frame a progressive conservation agenda will be from the bottom up. Thus, I argue that public land management agencies are facing a dilemma if they hope to respond both to ecological reality and democratic accountability. They are facing this dilemma most immediately in their several legal duties to generate formal, comprehensive plans for the lands they administer by which they must protect biodiversity at the same time they serve a diverse public according to the terms of almost a dozen different enabling statutes.
Natural Resources Law
Date of this Version
Jamison E. Colburn, "Habitat and Humanity: Public Lands Law in the Age of Ecology" (May 30, 2006). bepress Legal Series. bepress Legal Series.Working Paper 1405.