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Global climate change presents daunting challenges to the federal government’s ability to manage its lands and resources in ways that ensure that the priceless natural heritage that these land and resources comprise remains available in substantially unimpaired condition to both present and future generations of Americans. One of the challenges results from the fact that the laws governing the activities of federal land management agencies have outlasted the scientific assumptions on which those laws were based. In particular, Congress adopted many of those laws on the assumption that ecological systems tend toward a natural equilibrium. Subsequently, the science of ecology experienced a paradigm shift which recognizes that disturbances are a natural and necessary part of ecosystems. Natural resource management efforts that fail to consider the consequences of these disturbances are not likely to succeed at preserving the affected resources in the long term. This Article assesses the capability of the federal land management agencies under current law to deal with climate change and the threats it poses to federal lands and resources. It assesses whether the agencies’ organic statutes delegate to them sufficient authority to promote resilience in the natural resources they control, highlighting deficiencies in the nature, scope, and implementation of existing legislation. It makes a series of recommendations for changing either the statutes or the manner in which they are implemented to strengthen the capacity of the federal land management agencies to mitigate the impacts of climate change and avoid disruption or collapse of ecosystems in the face of it. The recommendations are designed to ensure that the land management agencies have ample authority to protect the resources for which they are responsible by managing them in an adaptive fashion, to promote ecosystem resilience and enhance their capacity to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

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GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 490; GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 490

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