Commenting on the Section in 1963, Assistant Attorney General (AAG) Ramsey Clark presciently asserted that its cases would become the most significant caseload in the Division’s future, stating that whether “in the year 2000 we will have, or not have, an invaluable heritage in resource preserves, parks, forests and other federal reservations” would be determined in part “through litigation,” which imposed special responsibilities on the Section’s lawyers.
AAG Clark further noted that the Section (then known as the General Litigation Section) was the “only federal agency which sees, or at least glimpses, all the land management activities of the federal government,” and that there was “concentrated in the Section a cumulative experience both with land use agencies and in litigation involving federal lands that is unequalled.” AAG Clark, The General Litigation Section, Lands Division Journal 1963, Vol. 1, pp. 42-44.
With the enactment of the National Environmental Policy Act and various other statutes affecting the protection and management of federal lands and resources in the 60’s and 70’s, the current docket of the General Litigation/Natural Resources Section fulfills AAG Clark’s prediction. It has responsibility for litigation arising under more than 60 federal statutes, involving a multitude of federal agencies and programs that go to the heart of federal land and resource management and protection.
The modern day Natural Resources Section is the result of a number of administrative changes in ENRD involving the creation, splitting off and merging of various different sections, and practice areas, and traces its beginnings from ENRD’s (then known as the Lands Division) Trial Section created in 1937.
From its creation in 1909 to 1937, the Lands Division was managed without any formal division into sections. In 1937 the work of the Division became complex enough that work was divided among six separate sections, one of which was the Trial Section, which had responsibility for all cases in the trial courts, except condemnation proceedings. The Trial Section’s docket included:
- public lands cases, including those related to grazing, and quiet title actions;
- boundary dispute cases;
- cases involving water rights and reclamation; and,
- in addition to affirmative claims made on behalf of Native Americans as trustee, claims made by Native Americans against the United States.
In 1953, the water rights work of the Trial Section was assigned to its own separate section, the Water Resources Section. Also in 1953, an Indian Claims Section was created out of the Trial Section to handle that portion of the defensive Native American claims which would be brought under the Indian Claims Commission Act of 1946.
Subsequent developments have seen the re-merger of most of these dockets, and splitting off of others:
- In 1960, the Trial Section and the Water Resources Section were consolidated under the name of the General Litigation Section.
- In 1975, to handle the growing volume of cases involving water and property rights of Native Americans, the General Litigation’s responsibility for affirmative litigation on behalf of Native Americans was transferred to the newly created Indian Resources Section.
- In 1981 General Litigation again assumed responsibility for Outer Continental Shelf oil and gas, coastal zone, and submerged lands litigation that had previously been transferred (1969) to the Marine Resources Section.
- Also in 1981, General Litigation assumed responsibility for litigation which had previously been transferred (1980) to the Energy Section.
- In 1986, the Indian Claims Section was merged into the General Litigation Section reconnecting this portion of the defensive docket.
In 2005 the name of the General Litigation Section was changed to the Natural Resources Section to more accurately identify its work with the mission of ENRD.