Water resources and their associated wildlife are tied to the "public trust domain." If you are not familiar with this concept, I will briefly introduce the roots and where the public trust doctrine has been applied.
Under Roman law it was stated "by the law of nature these things are common to all mankind; the air, running water, the sea, and consequently the shores of the sea." What this meant was that the rivers, ports, sea, shores of the sea, and rights to fish in and use those areas belonged to the public trust. Stated another way, the "ownership" of such areas was deemed an inherent element of sovereignty. Thus, under the common law, these public rights were inalienable and could not be transferred by the government into private ownership, any more than could any other governmental power held by the sovereign. This concept, which came to be known as "the public trust for commerce, navigation and fisheries," eventually found its way into American law.
What does this mean to you? The public trust doctrine is an affirmation of the duty of the State (it does not matter where you live) to protect people's common heritage of streams, lakes, marshlands and tidelands, surrendering that right only in rare cases when abandonment of that right is consistent with the purposes of the trust. Or stated another way, the State has the responsibility to protect the continued sustainability of an ecosystem so that people can benefit from its common heritage resources, their uses, and ecological values. This is a moral obligation of the State supported by case law under the principles of the public trust doctrine, which dates back to the Roman era.
In today?s society, the public trust doctrine is usually applied by the Federal Clean Water Act (as amended) to protect against all unsuitable uses of the federal and State's waters (through the Section 401 of the Clean Water Act). What is fascinating about the public trust is that it is now shifting from water issues to wildlife resources. Most case law supported the Public trust doctrine by impacting uses of water that were considered unsuitable to downstream users ranging from pollution, diminished aesthetics or natural beauty, interference with the right of the public to enjoy a natural resource of state or national significance, or threatening to upset the ecological balance of nature.
I recently attended a seminar on this subject, and as the speaker said, ??all you need is some ambition, money, and a very creative lawyer, and the Public trust doctrine has great practicability to protect your public trust rights when it comes to wildlife.?
In essence, all "State" wildlife is held in perpuity within the "public trust." This public trust resource (furbearers, large mammals, and upland game in this case) is administered by the state wildlife commission and implemented by the NDFG via rules, code, etc. So to conclude, if an entity is degrading a "public trust" resource, you have recourse to sue that entity via this doctrine.