Federal Laws Significant to the Natural Resource Career Field

Below is a list of federal laws related to natural resource management. These laws are covered in many introductory natural resource classes because they provide a glimpse into the foundation of the National Park Service's (NPS) constitutional authority, as well as the laws that created and strengthened it. These laws also represent highlights from key environmental legislation that contributes to the preservationist nature of the NPS. This list is not meant to be all inclusive; numerous laws can be found outside this list. To learn more about federal laws that affect the NPS visit the Natural Resource Catalog page to find a law and policy course that meets your needs.

For additional laws outside this list please visit the Office of Policy Related Laws or the Natural Resource Reference Desk webpage.

US Constitution Enumerated Powers Article I. Section 8

Interstate Commerce Clause: To regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes;


US Constitution Enumerated Powers Article IV. Section 3

Property Clause: The Congress shall have power to dispose of and make all needful rules and regulations respecting the territory or other property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to prejudice any claims of the United States, or of any particular state.


Yellowstone National Park Act


Congress established the first national park in a remote corner of the Wyoming territory "... for the preservation... of all timber, mineral deposits, natural curiosities and wonders... and their retention in their natural condition."


The Lacey Act


The Lacey Act is the oldest federal wildlife protection statute. It now protects both plants and wildlife by creating civil, criminal and forfeiture penalties for certain violations. This includes the trafficking of "illegal" wildlife, encompassing fish, wildlife, and plants that have been taken, possessed, transported or sold in violation of state, federal, tribal, or foreign law.


Antiquities Act


Congress gives the President the power to create National Monuments by presidential proclamation, consisting of minimum amounts of Federal lands necessary to protect historic, prehistoric, and scientific objects.


National Park Service Organic Act


Congress creates the National Park Service and prescribes that the fundamental purpose of national parks, monuments, and other reservations is "to conserve the scenery, and the natural and historic objects and wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same... as will leave them unimpaired."


Migratory Bird Treaty Act


The Migratory Bird Treaty Act includes agreements between the United States, Great Britain (for Canada), Mexico, Japan, and Russia. This act protects every bird in North America, except for House Sparrows and Pigeons, without requiring evidence of migration between the United States and treaty member nations. It makes illegal at any time to take by any manner, possess, sell, ship, export any migratory bird, part thereof, nest, egg, or product.


The Wilderness Act


Congress established the National Wilderness Preservation System, under the Wilderness Act. The legislation set aside certain federal lands as wilderness areas. These areas, generally 5,000 acres or larger, are wild lands largely in their natural state. The act says that they are areas "...where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain."


National Historic Preservation Act


Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act requires federal agencies to consider what effects their actions or undertakings may have on cultural resources (also referred to as historic properties) listed in or eligible to be listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The law also requires that agencies discuss their actions before taking them with the appropriate parties.


National Environmental Policy Act


Landmark environmental protection legislation establishing as a goal for federal decision-making a balance between use and preservation of natural and cultural resources. NEPA requires all federal agencies including the NPS to:

  • Prepare in-depth studies detailing the impacts of and alternatives to proposed "major federal actions";
  • Use the information contained in such studies when deciding whether to proceed with the actions; and
  • Diligently attempt to involve the interested and affected public before any decision affecting the environment is made


General Authorities Act


Congress redefines the National Park System to be "...any area of land and water... administered by the Secretary... through the National Park Service for park, monument, historic, parkway, recreational, or other purposes."

Congress states that all units of the system are united in one system and that the system is to be preserved and managed for the benefit and inspiration of all the people of the Untied States. This act makes clear that, in addition to the unit-enabling act, the Organic Act governs all units.


Clean Water Act


Established federal role in protecting the nation's waters other than to simply protect their navigability. Set a goal of making the nation's waters suitable for fishing and swimming by adoption of water quality standards for each body of water. States take the lead but must not fall below the federal standard/


Clean Air Act


The EPA established national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) for criteria pollutants, ozone, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, particulate matter, and lead.


Endangered Species Act


This statue provides two tiers of protection for both endangered species and threatened species. The ESA is the US law that implements the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES).


Redwood National Park Expansion Act


Congress amends the 1970 Act for Administration to make emphatic that the NPS is not to permit activities in derogation of park values and purposes except where Congress explicitly and directly provides for them.


Archaeological Resources Protection Act


"The purpose of this Act is to secure, for the present and future benefit of the American people, the protection of archaeological resources and sites which are on public lands and Indian lands."




Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) also known as the "Superfund". This statue was enacted to clean up abandoned hazardous waste sites and to respond to future release of hazardous substances into the environment.


Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act


This law prohibits anyone who knowingly trafficks in Native American human remains and cultural items.


Park System Resource Protection Act - 19jj


This law is commonly referred to as 19jj. It allows the NPS to seek compensation for injuries to park system resources and use the recovered funds to restore, replace or acquire equivalent resources as well as to monitor and study these or similar resources. This law is also a strict liability statute that mean no fault or intent is required to make a responsible party liable under this law.


National Parks Omnibus Management Act


Title VI Subtitle D the Paleontological Resources Preservation - (Sec. 6302) Directs the Secretary of the Interior or the Secretary of Agriculture, as appropriate, to: (1) manage and protect paleontological resources on federal land, using scientific principles and expertise; and (2) develop plans for inventorying, monitoring, and deriving the scientific and educational use of such resources.


Omnibus Public Land Management Act - Paleontological Resources Preservation


Title VI Subtitle D the Paleontological Resources Preservation - (Sec. 6302) Directs the Secretary of the Interior or the Secretary of Agriculture, as appropriate, to: (1) manage and protect paleontological resources on federal land, using scientific principles and expertise; and (2) develop plans for inventorying, monitoring, and deriving the scientific and educational use of such resources.