Environmental Law to Promote Conservation: A U.S. Experience

Presented by the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

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Presenter: John Ruple

John Ruple is a professor and researcher for the University of Utah College of Law Wallace Stegner Center of Land, Resources, and the Environment. He conducts research on public land and water resource management, including efforts to improve management efficiency and collaborative resource management between the federal and state governments. He has published in the Utah Environmental Law Review, Idaho Law Review, and Journal of Energy & Natural Resources Law, and contributed to various books and technical reports.


Lessons Learned from the U.S. Experience. This section provides background on the structure of government in the United States, explaining how the federal government, state governments, and private individuals all came to own significant portions of the American landscape. Understanding land ownership and governmental authority create the foundation for understanding how lands and resources are managed.

How are Federal and State Lands Managed? This section introduces the four main federal agencies that manage public lands in the United States, comparing and contrasting their management mandates. This section also discusses state trust lands, which are common in Western states. State trust lands are generally managed under a more development-focused mandate. Seeing how these lands are distributed across the landscape and understanding the competing mandates at issue in land management illuminates the challenges faced in striking a balance between conservation and development.

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). This section introduces the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). In contrast to laws that provide substantive protection for resources like air or water, NEPA imposes procedural safeguards on federal agencies making decisions impacting environmental quality. NEPA also provides the public an opportunity to engage in decisions that are likely to impact environmental quality. NEPA applies to virtually all decisions regarding management of federal public lands, making it an indispensable part of any discussion of public land management.

Case Study: Managing Lands in Southeast Utah. This section brings together the content presented in parts 1, 2, and 3 by looking at public lands in Southeastern Utah and the process used to develop plans that balance competing management interests, like mineral development and conservation, across that landscape.


U.S. National Parks: History, Law, and Policy

Presenter: Robert Keiter

Robert Keiter is the director of the University of Utah College of Law Wallace Stegner Center of Land, Resources, and the Environment. He teaches courses on natural resources law and constitutional law. His current research focuses on the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem concept, and ecosystem management as a key to preserving public lands and wildlife in the face of mounting development pressures.

 


The U.S. National Park System. This section introduces the U.S. national park system, its history, the governmental entities responsible for the national parks, and the important laws governing the parks. Note the National Parks Organic Act states that the purpose of the parks is “conservation” and public “enjoyment.” The Park Service and the courts have concluded that conservation takes priority over “enjoyment” due to the “leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations” language.

What Is a National Park? During the 105-year history of the U.S. national park system, our view about the role and purpose of national parks has evolved. In fact, a national park reflects some part of each of the eight ideas shown on the slides. Today, the National Park Service relies heavily upon the ecological sciences to guide its resource management decisions and views national parks as the vital core of a larger ecosystem.

Landscape Conservation. To address climate change impacts and biodiversity loss, the Park Service employs an ecosystem management approach to protect national park wildlife and other resources. With national parks at the core of larger ecosystems, this ecosystem management approach is based upon science and involves coordinating with park neighbors to plan at an ecosystem scale in order to reduce fragmentation of the ecosystem and to establish wildlife migration corridors. 

Designating New National Parks. Congress has established three principal criteria for identifying and establishing new national parks: “national significance,” “feasibility,” and “suitability.” Congress also has created new categories of national parks, such as national recreation areas, to meet diverse conservation and social needs. Other national park designation and nature conservation strategies include identifying and protecting unrepresented ecosystems, expanding park boundaries, restoring damaged areas to ecological health, and establishing new parks near urban areas where many people live to provide a national park experience and exposure to nature.