Public Trust Doctrine

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The Public Trust Doctrine is a legal construct whereby certain cultural and natural resources are held for public use, are owned by the public, and thus are managed by their governments.


  • The Public Trust Doctrine is practically constrained by the "takings clause" of the Washington State Constitution
  • Originated in Roman Law and in the Magna Carta and British Common Law.
  • Greer v. Connecticut 161 U.S. 519 (1896) affirmed that the Public Trust Doctrine includes the management and harvest of wildlife.
  • Courts interpreting state law generally determine if a use is for the public benefit.
  • A number of recent court cases have used Public Trust Doctrine claims to compel state or federal governments to act in defense of public trust resources threatened by climate change (for example Juliana v. U.S. and Chernaik v. Brown).
  • An Ecology Page describes legal precedents on Washington shorelines
  • Ecology 1991 public trust doctrine and coastal zone is a legal analysis funded under CZMA.