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Using Executive Fiat for Conservation or Destruction: From Roosevelt to Trump

February 11, 2021 @ 12:15 pm - 1:15 pm

A Wallace Stegner Center Green Bag

12:15-1:15 p.m.,
Just over a century after President Theodore Roosevelt left the West Wing in 1909, another Republican, Donald Trump, moved in. The contrasts between Roosevelt and Trump are many. Roosevelt is viewed as one of the greatest conservation Presidents in the nation’s history with a deep respect for science, while Trump has been billed as the worst, with a palpable disdain for science. Yet several parallels can be drawn as well. Both Roosevelt and Trump exhibit a penchant for asserting strong executive powers to accomplish his goals, with little concern for the checks and balances of the legislative and judicial branches of government. In both cases, the environmental stakes couldn’t be higher. For Roosevelt, the destruction and outright disposal of public lands loomed large in the Gilded Age of Robber Barons and railroads; for Trump, a rapidly warming climate is pushing the planet to a tipping point. Yet there is a critical distinction between the executive orders issued by Roosevelt and those issued by Trump. Roosevelt’s orders followed scientific management principles and conserved the federal public lands, natural resources, and wildlife, leaving the door open to Congress and future administrations to change course if the public interest demanded other forms of use or development. Trump’s orders, by contrast, deplete or destroy the lands and resources, and foreclose future opportunities. This article explores the legitimacy and the enduring legacy of unilateral executive power by comparing these two presidents. It focuses on their impact on the nation’s greatest treasures – its public lands and natural resources. By highlighting the potential to either safeguard those treasures for the public or to exploit them for political gain, the article illustrates the yin and the yang; the light and the dark of executive fiat.  


1-hour CLE (pending). Free and open to the public.


Sandra B. Zellmer is a Professor and Director of Natural Resources Clinics at the University of Montana School of Law, where she teaches public lands, wildlife law, water law, torts, and related courses. Zellmer has published dozens of law review articles as well as several books, including Water Law & Policy (2018) (with Thompson, Abrams, and Leshy), Natural Resources Hornbook (2015) (2d ed. 2020) (with Laitos), and A Century of Unnatural Disasters: Mississippi River Stories (2014) (with Klein). Zellmer was elected to the American College of Environmental Lawyers in 2020, and she has served on the Board of Directors and as a trustee of the Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Foundation. She is a member scholar of the Center for Progressive Reform and is active with the American Bar Association’s Section on Environment, Energy, and Resources (Committees on Public Lands and on Water Resources). Previously, Zellmer held the Robert B. Daugherty Chair at the University of Nebraska College of Law. Before teaching, she was an attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice Environment and Natural Resources Division, representing federal land management and wildlife agencies. She also practiced law at Faegre & Benson in Minneapolis, Minnesota and clerked for the Honorable William W. Justice, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Texas.

For questions about this event contact Chrystal (801) 213-1317.

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February 11, 2021
12:15 pm - 1:15 pm
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College of Law
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