Efficacy of the Public Trust Doctrine

August Nesbitt

The public trust doctrine is the principle that certain lands and resources belong to the public, and thus the government is required to maintain these public lands for the public’s reasonable use. The idea came from the Roman Emperor Justinian, who rewrote the Corpus Juris Civilis, which is the foundation of civil law in many nations today, and in doing so included a law which held that the seashore not cordoned for private use was available to anyone. This principle eventually became law in England, which consolidated the law’s power until the United States inherited it as well. Currently, the public trust applies to navigable waters as well as to the natural resources found on that land. Most often invoked in land access disputes, and occasionally in natural resource disputes, the public trust doctrine is different in every state. In California, Mono Lake was threatened in the 80’s by diversion of its tributary streams for use by the city of Los Angeles; Advocates for the lake sued the city, and the case eventually found itself in the California Supreme Court, which ruled that the water rights of Los Angeles had to be more fairly balanced with the public trust values of the lake, decreeing that Mono Lake had public trust values and the state was obligated to maintain these values. The consequences of the decision are far-reaching, and it is now a cornerstone of the water rights’ law field. This project will hopefully attempt to examine the public trust doctrine’s economic effect across US states, using California’s doctrine as a base.


The final paper will probably take the general form of a scientific research paper. Thus, it will include:

  • Abstract – This short paragraph will summarize the paper.
  • Introduction – This section will expand on the information in the above section to provide the reader background information.
  • Previous Research – This section informs the reader about where my paper fits into existing literature on the topic.
  • Data – This section provides and analyzes data used in the research.
  • Results – Assuming I create a mathematical model, this section will provide and analyze that model and the results of transforming the data with the model.
  • Conclusion – This section will frame future research in this area.
  • Bibliography

Speaking of the latter:

One of the primary sources will be Brian Gray’s UC Davis Law Review article, “Ensuring the Public Trust’. The article focuses on the public trust doctrine in California and how it was applied in a major court case, National Audubon Society V. Superior Court, and the effects of that ruling. Retrieved from:


I will also consider the case notes from the case itself, as found on the LexisNexis Academic Network.

33 Cal. 3d 419; 658 P.2d 709; 189 Cal. Rptr. 346; 1983 Cal. LEXIS 152; 21 ERC (BNA) 1490; 13 ELR 20272. LexisNexis Academic. Web. Date Accessed: 2013/10/23.

Hopefully I will be able to extract some information from Judge Hodge.

Sax, Joseph L. (1970). “The Public Trust Doctrine in Natural Resource Law: Effective Judicial Intervention”.Michigan Law Review (The Michigan Law Review Association) 68 (3): 471–566. doi:10.2307/1287556.JSTOR 1287556.

Slade, David C. (2008). The Public Trust Doctrine in Motion. PTDIM, LLCISBN 978-0-615-24111-1.

Velozo de Melo Bento, Lucas (November 14, 2009). “Searching for Intergenerational Green Solutions: The Relevance of the Public Trust Doctrine to Environmental Preservation”. Common Law Review (11): 7–13.

Michael Seth Benn, Towards Environmental Entrepreneurship: Restoring the Public Trust Doctrine in New York, 155 University of Pennsylvania Law Review 203 (2006).

Patrick S. Ryan, Application of the Public-Trust Doctrine and Principles of Natural Resource Management to Electromagnetic Spectrum. Michigan Telecommunications and Technology Law Review, Vol. 10, No. 2, 2004.

James L. Huffman, Ph.D., “Fish Out of Water: The Public Trust Doctrine in a Constitutional Democracy ” Issues in Legal Scholarship, Joseph Sax and the Public Trust (2003): Article 6.

“Restoring The Trust: Water Resources & The Public Trust Doctrine, A Manual For Advocates” by the Center for Progressive Reform, September 2009

One Response to Efficacy of the Public Trust Doctrine

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: