Public Trust Doctrine Upheld By Texas Courts

Public Trust Doctrine Upheld By Texas Courts


Texas Wildlife Association is very pleased to share an important legal development for wildlife.


In 2016, two individual captive deer breeding permit holders filed a lawsuit against Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) and three TPWD employees in connection with Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) management rules adopted by Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission to protect all deer in our state.  The lawsuit sought to establish that deer held by breeders in captivity are private property and therefore exempt from TPWD regulation.


The 98th District Court ruled that deer in Texas are not private property, upholding the Public Trust Doctrine that wildlife belong to everyone.  The court further ruled that the two individuals owed attorney fees to TPWD in the amount of approximately $425,000.  This ruling was appealed and consequently upheld by the Third District Court of Appeals, whose ruling was then appealed to the Supreme Court of Texas.


On October 2, 2020, the Supreme Court of Texas denied the petition for review, establishing additional, clear legal precedent for the Public Trust Doctrine in our state.  That doctrine is the cornerstone of wildlife management in North America, so its legal affirmation is a victory for wildlife and wildlife stewards.  Upholding attorney fees be repaid to TPWD is a victory for Texas taxpayers and hopefully serves as a deterrent for similar lawsuits in the future.


Texas Wildlife Association was joined by Boone and Crockett Club, Texas Chapter of The Wildlife Society, Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, National Wildlife Federation, National Wild Turkey Federation, Texas Chapter of Coastal Conservation Association, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, and Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association in filing an amicus brief with the appellate court in support of TPWD.


“We are thankful for the strong legal rulings in support of what we have known all along, the wildlife of our state belong to all the people of our state.  We are thankful for our partners in the amicus brief and we are thankful for the perseverance of TPWD” said David Yeates, TWA CEO.

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