The Public Trust Doctrine

The Public Trust Doctrine extends back to Roman times, thus making it a pre-constitutional right; it is a Public Property right that can never be taken away.  It is an endowment we have inherited which we cannot survive without and is intended to support all future generations. It is supported in Case Law, not Statutory Law.  The first leading case was Illinois Central Railroad vs. Illinois (1892). This Trust, Nature's Law,  is part of the very fabric and essence of government itself.  Consequently, government cannot reject or get rid of the trust.  A very recent Public Trust case law precedent was set in December of 2013, "Robin Township, Washington County vs. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania" , a ruling that stated previous state law had undermined local government's ability to regulate gas and oil operations.

Youth climate lawsuit  

January 26, 2017

 This appears to be the most important public trust lawsuit on our planet right now. Judge allows 21 youth plaintiffs to be heard as the case now moves forward.  "This case alleges the federal government is violating plaintiffs’ constitutional and public trust rights by promoting the development and use of fossil fuels."

"The thing that you have to understand about nature and natural law is there's no mercy…..There's only law…Whether you agree with it, understand it, comprehend it, it doesn't make any difference.  You're going to suffer the consequences, and that's where we're headed right now." ~Oren Lyons

"Our Wildlife Trust"

Adrian Treves, PhD

Project Coyote Science Advisory Board

"The puzzle is why so many decision-makers have forgotten 200 years of teachings about the U.S. public trust? My colleagues and I see two very simple explanations. First, the history of the wildlife trust has been forgotten or retold in an illegitimate way that places exploiters in a central decision-making position. And secondly, loud moneyed interests...


Predators and the Public Trust

by Treves A., Chapron, G. et al.


The main point here is that state agencies are managing for narrow interests and does not hold the trust (predators) as an asset for future generations.  Agencies have been captured by special interests and are in violation of the public trust doctrine in Wisconsin and across the country.

"Predators and the Public Trust"
Adobe Acrobat Document 776.8 KB


"Nature's Trust: Environmental Law for a New Ecological Age"

by Mary Christina Wood, Philip H. Knight Professor of Law and Faculty, University of Oregon


(Link here for a captivating video presentation by Dr. Wood encapsulating her book.)  Environmental Law of the 1970's has failed us.  The government is relinquishing/giving away our earth's endowment via our environmental statutes.  Our three branches of gov't  which were intended to provide checks and balances are "missing in action". Why?  One of those branches, Congress, has been captured/bought by industries via millions of dollars of campaign contributions.  In addition, governmental agencies have also been "captured by the very industries that they were put in place to regulate".  Mary Wood's ground-breaking, transformational treatise forges a path forward before it is too late.  The judicial branch of government "can enforce public trust law but it requires them to step outside statutory law to figure out a remedy," states Mary Wood.

The Wildlife Trust Doctrine is a branch of the Public Trust Doctrine and is guided by the same principles.  It surfaced in case law in 1896 in Geer vs. State of Connecticut.   Bruskotter, Enzler & Treves state, "...when federal statutory law no longer offers protection to a species, the public trust doctrine imposes upon states an obligation to conserve the species for their citizens…"  This paper suggests additional case law under  the Public Trust Doctrine is necessary to define the state's obligations to conserve species and to what extent.  In addition, this would also provide a path forward to remove politics from wildlife conservation.  (see "Rescuing Wolves from politics:  Wildlife as a Public Trust resource") Also, link here for an excellent primer video presentation by Prof. Adrian Treves, PhD of the Carnivore Coexistence Lab at UW-Madison: "Wildlife & the Public Trust"

Read about the Public Trust Doctrine in your State
Public Trust Doctrine in 45 states.pdf
Adobe Acrobat Document 5.8 MB

 Bill Moyers & Company

January 2, 2015

"The Children's Climate Crusade"

As climate change science slowly moved to the forefront, statutory environmental law was initiated.  It was a piecemeal approach rather than wholistic and it has not worked.  In addition, the takeover of our agencies by industry has brought it to a standstill. We are now running out of time.  Mary Wood suggests a "civil society movement" is necessary in tandem with Public Trust litigation.   This 25-minute interview w/ Mary Wood summarizes the present legal approaches being taken along with movements by groups such as "iMatter: Kids v Global Warming" and "Our Children's Trust".  


In 2011-2012 the Atmospheric Trust Claim was initiated.  Cases and petitions were filed on behalf of youth in all 50 states.   It is a process designed to move the judicial branch of government into the realm of the Public Trust Doctrine since our other branches and agencies of government have failed us.


Photo credit:
Photo credit:

UPDATE: April 20, 2015

"Judge in Oregon says he'll make his ruling in the next couple of months"

(link above for video on court hearing)

UPDATE - March 9, 2015

"Judge will hear oral arguments in Massachusetts case brought by youth"

Oregon court case will have ruling on March 13, 2015


Does the public trust doctrine that protects air, water, and endangered species apply to climate? 


On June 11, 2014 the Oregon Court of Appeals reversed the lower courts dismissal of the case.

"Plaintiffs ask Supreme Court to review novel climate trust litigation"

October 2014



Graphic credit:
Graphic credit: