Resource Governance in the United States

Globally, there is a strong push to devolve control over natural resources, including protected areas, to regional and local stakeholders. In many developing countries, communities with long-standing customary claims to land, forests, and other natural resources contest attempts by central governments to claim these resources as “public”, held by government as national resources. In many countries, local stakeholders continue to claim rights to access and use such resources, even at the risk of being penalized for illegal uses. These conflicts are not confined to developing countries.

In Arizona, voters will be voting on a ballot initiative Proposition 120. Proposition 120 would require amendment of Arizona’s constitution, declaring state sovereignty and jurisdiction over the “air, water, public lands, minerals, wildlife and other natural resources within the state’s boundaries”, including Grand Canyon National Park. According to a recent Reuters article, the amendment would not include Native American reservations or federal installations, but would encompass approximately 46,000 square miles, nearly 41 percent of the state.

Regardless of the outcome of the vote, it reflects the continuing disagreement between the Federal government and many stakeholders in Western states over the ownership and rights over resources, often called the “Sagebrush Rebellion”. Despite a well-established body of law and sophisticated systems for administering property rights and resolving conflicts, this dispute persists in the United States, largely fought through political and legal means. In developing countries where rules and systems for governing tenure and property rights are less developed, there is a continuing need for policy and legal reforms and processes that provide peaceful opportunities for stakeholders to debate this issue and decide how best to balance national and local interests in the allocation of rights over land and other natural resources.