Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C., looking toward the Capitol from the Treasury Building. ca. 1915.  Courtesy of the National Archives.

The richness and complexity of the Division’s history is inseparable from the larger story of the growth and maturation of American society in the 20th Century. In the early 1900s, Americans struggled to balance competing interests stemming from westward expansion, preservation of natural spaces, resource disputes on public and tribal lands, and other such issues. Disagreements soon erupted over these difficult questions.

On November 16, 1909, Attorney General George Wickersham signed a two-page order creating "The Public Lands Division" of the Department of Justice to step into the breach and address the critical litigation that ensued. He assigned all cases concerning "enforcement of the Public Land Law," including Indian rights cases, to the new Division, and transferred a staff of nine -- six attorneys and three stenographers -- to carry out those responsibilities.

As the nation grew and developed, so did the responsibilities of the Division, and its name changed to the "Environment and Natural Resources Division" (ENRD) to better reflect those responsibilities. Today, the Division, which is organized into ten sections, has offices in Washington, D.C., Anchorage, Boston, Denver, Sacramento, San Francisco and Seattle, and a staff of over 600 people. It currently has over 7,000 active cases and matters, and has represented virtually every federal agency in courts in all fifty states, territories and possessions.

Each new generation of ENRD attorneys builds on the work of those who have come before. The Division was 100 years old on November 16, 2009. Beginning our second century, we are mindful of the strong legacy that we have inherited and the future opportunities that stretch before us.


Updated May 18, 2021

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