Nebraska Cooperative Fish & Wildlife Research Unit


Date of this Version



Published in Social-Ecological Resilience and Law, ed. Ahjond S. Garmestani and Craig R. Allen (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014).


U.S. Government Work


Environmental law is intimately connected to ecological concepts and understanding. The legal instruments, institutions, and administration of law in the United States are predicated on assumptions that nature is globally stable and that the inherent variability in ecological systems is bounded. This current legal framework is based upon an understanding of ecological systems operating near an equilibrium, or if disturbed, moving back toward an equilibrium. Such assumptions make much current environmental law ill-suited for many pressing environmental issues (Ruhl 1999; Garmestani et al. 2009; Craig 2010; Verchick 2010; Benson and Garmestani 2011). Emerging environmental challenges, such as cross-boundary water governance or climate change, are not easily addressed within the current legal framework, because although the problems may be easily identified, the solutions require frequent recalibration of the policy used to manage the environmental issue.