What Are Natural Resources?
Natural resources are substances or things on earth that humans use or rely on to survive. They are not created by humans but exist regardless. Natural resources include water, wildlife, plants, sunlight, air, ecosystems, fossil fuels, soil, and minerals.
Cultural resources, the artifacts of past and current civilizations, are often included as natural resources. These include things like burial sites, archaeological sites and artifacts, and human remains.
The government controls and manages natural resources at the federal, state, and local levels. Different government agencies are responsible for different resources. For instance, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages animals.
What Do Natural Resources Lawyers Do?
Many lawyers in natural resources law work for government agencies. These agencies are responsible for enforcing laws that protect natural resources and govern how they can be used and by whom. Several federal laws protect resources, guided by several federal agencies:
- Bureau of Land Management
- National Park Service
- Bureau of Indian Affairs
- Fish & Wildlife Service
- Geological Survey
- Forest Service
- National Marine Fisheries Service
- Army Corps of Engineers
- Environmental Protection Agency
Private natural resources lawyers play several roles. Some head up lawsuits against companies and other groups to mitigate the environmental harm caused by resource development, such as by mining or construction.
Natural resources lawyers also represent individuals and companies to protect access to resources. For instance, water rights are important to farmers and ranchers in western states. Lawyers help them settle disputes with each other or with the government over access to precious groundwater.
There is significant overlap with environmental lawyers who may also specialize in natural resources. They work with companies to ensure compliance with related laws and help clients take companies to court over environmental damage or misuse of natural resources.
Do I Need a Natural Resources Lawyer?
Most people never need to work with a lawyer specializing in natural resources and related laws. Most of these lawyers work with businesses and government agencies. However, there are situations in which an individual or group of people may need their services. Some examples include:
- You have a dispute over resource use, such as water rights, land, or forest.
- You’re developing on land that has protected resources.
- You own a business with protected land and resources and need to comply with laws.
- You are considering buying property and need to know which laws apply to the land and its resources.
- You need to buy or sell water rights.
- You need a permit from a government agency to use resources.
What a Natural Resources Lawyer Can Do for You
While many people never come up against legal issues related to natural resources, they may be more common than you realize. If you own land or do business in areas with protections in place, you may need a natural resources lawyer. They can help you in several ways:
- Clarify your rights
Natural resources laws are multiple and confusing. They include both federal and state regulations. As a property or business owner, you may be unclear about what rights you have to use the resources on your land. A lawyer with special expertise can explain your rights.
- Research property
A natural resources lawyer can perform due diligence before you buy or develop a property. They will find out if there are any restrictions on the resources to make an informed decision and fair deal.
- Settle disputes
Resources are often disputed between individuals, companies, and government agencies. A lawyer will advocate as you go through a dispute, ensuring you have the best chance of settling it in your favor.
- Sue violators
Sometimes, a resource dispute comes down to a lawsuit. A lawyer with expertise in natural resources law can help you go up against individuals or even companies to hold them accountable for misusing resources and harming the environment.
How to Find a Natural Resources Lawyer
There are not many private lawyers specializing solely in natural resources. Most are environmental lawyers with experience and expertise in natural resources laws and cases. Do your homework to find the environmental firms that can handle complicated cases involving resources. Interview lawyers and firms and ask important questions:
- How long have you been working in environmental and natural resources law?
- How many cases have you handled that involved natural resources?
- Have you handled cases similar to mine?
- Can you show me the outcomes and references from past clients?
- Do you think I have a case, and what do you expect the outcome to be?
- Do you have experience with litigation?
- How do you charge for services?
- What do you see as a timeline for my case?
A good firm or lawyer should be willing to provide you with a free initial consultation to answer these questions. Use their answers to determine the best fit to work with you and to handle your legal needs.
Working with a natural resources lawyer is helpful for anyone who uses or is buying or selling property with resources. They can also help the little guys go up against companies with big legal teams getting away with harming the environment. Contact a lawyer today to talk about your case and what you can do next.