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78 University of Colorado Law Review 717 (2007)


A recent flurry of new natural resources law casebooks, coming a quarter-century since the publication of the last significant new teaching materials, is an occasion to revisit the boundaries that define the field. The similarities among the casebooks are stronger than their differences, and represent a consensus about what composes natural resources law. The published teaching materials as well as an informal poll of natural resources law professors show a substantial overlap between natural resources and environmental law course coverage. Administrative implementation of statutes dominates both subjects. Both courses typically cover environmental impact analysis and endangered species protection. The new casebooks broaden natural resources law coverage to include water rights, wetland development, and other subjects outside of public land management.

Despite the common ground shared with environmental law, natural resources law retains a distinctive character. This article describes four attributes that justify separate pedagogical treatment of natural resources law as a stand-alone course in law schools. First, the in-situ character of extractive activities that dominate natural resources law raises special problems and generates place-based approaches to governance. Second, the deeper roots of natural resources law present particularly vexing interpretive issues for applying the old statutes, deeds, and doctrines to contemporary problems. Third, natural resources law has more experience with ecosystem management. Fourth, despite the now-paramount importance of administrative tools, natural resources law still displays a broader array of property interests that go beyond the variations studied in the first-year property class.