Public trust doctrine is a legal principle establishing that certain natural and cultural resources are preserved for public use. Natural resources held in trust can include navigable waters, wildlife, or land. The public is considered the owner of the resources, and the government protects and maintains these resources for the public's use.
The doctrine is most frequently used in the context of water bodies. Throughout the United States, most lakes and streams are maintained under the public trust doctrine, typically for the purposes of drinking and recreational activities. The public trust doctrine also prevents private property from extending to the ocean.
For more information on the public trust doctrine, see this California State Lands Commission document.
[Last updated in May of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team]