Document Details

Natural Resources Policy: Management, Institutions, and Issues

Congressional Research Service (CRS) | January 17th, 2007

Natural resources management remains a significant issue for the federal government. Growing demands on the nation’s resources and interest in their protection and allocation among multiple uses have increased the complexity of management. The federal role in defining policy and institutional context shapes the combination of supported uses and protection measures.

Certain themes are common to federal resource issues. Many conflicts center on balancing traditional versus alternative uses and protection programs, managing to produce national or local benefits, and supporting current or future resource consumption. Other challenges involve the effect of federal resource management on private lands, fees for using federal resources, and financing of management efforts. Interagency conflicts and overlaps and the coordination of federal, state, and local efforts also are common implementation problems.

For many reasons, Congress often confronts resource issues based on the natural resource in question—lands and related resources, oceans and coasts, species and ecosystems, or water.

Federal land issues include land ownership and management, prioritization of uses, designation of special areas, and fee collection and disbursement. Energy production and recreation on federal lands remain controversial. Indian land issues include energy rights-of-way across tribal lands and treaty rights. Ocean topics encompass broad policy questions, such as whether to respond to recommendations by two commissions for more coordinated ocean policies and institutions. More specific multi-use management challenges range from fisheries, marine mammal, and coastal zone management, to adherence to the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Species management and ecosystem protection topics include federal protection and habitat designations for threatened and endangered species, prevention and response to invasive species, protection of international species, wetlands protection, and large-scale ecosystem restoration. Increased competition for water has fostered interest in the federal role in water resources, particularly in relation to water supply in western states and multi-use river management. Other water topics are dam and levee safety and security, and transboundary water resources management.

Natural resource science and management contributes to understanding and mitigating the nation’s natural hazard risks. Science also is instrumental in defining the uncertainty and potential extent and impact of climate change and weather on resource conditions. Often natural resource management is intertwined with other topics of broad public concern, such as environmental protection, energy, and agricultural policy.

The 110th Congress may pursue natural resources topics in the context of these other policy areas as well as through authorizations, appropriations, and oversight related to specific natural resources issues.


ecosystem management, endangered species, land use, planning and management

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