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The laws governing management of national parks, wildlife refuges, and other federal land preserves seek to conserve natural resources in highly treasured locations. The nature of conservation has changed substantially, however, since Congress first enacted these laws. It is clear that protected ecosystems are influenced by outside events and that management of human-dominated ecosystems is essential to long-term sustainability of the ecosystems containing protected preserves. The effects of climate change, invasive species introductions, and other broad-scale anthropogenic influences are expected to alter the functioning of natural systems in ways that will make it impossible for protected areas to function as they have in the past. Resource management and the laws that govern it must therefore shift toward protecting or restoring ecosystem resilience, including external influences important to system persistence.

This chapter considers two questions: (1) what kinds of protected areas are best suited to protecting the resilience of natural systems; and (2) whether adequate legal structures exist to allow for the creation and management of such areas. It explains why broad-scale management strategies scales are critical to achieving resilient social-ecological systems and explores challenges to effective broad-scale management of protected areas. The chapter argues that, despite some flexibility under existing laws governing parks and refuges for agencies to anticipate and react to natural systems disruptions through landscape-level management mechanisms, there is an increasing mismatch between legal mandates and protected area resilience. Both statutory and administrative changes are needed if national parks and wildlife refuges are to maintain social-ecological resilience.

GW Paper Series

GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2012-76, GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 2012-76

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