The Public Trust Doctrine

For over thirty years, Wheeler Van Sickle & Anderson, S.C. has been a leader in appellate advocacy in cases defining the scope of the Public Trust Doctrine under the Wisconsin Constitution, which is both a legal property doctrine and a source of protection for water resources. Under the Public Trust Doctrine, the State’s navigable waters and lakebeds must remain “forever free,” to be held in trust for the benefit of the public, subject to administration by the State legislature or DNR.

Our attorneys have litigated numerous cases defining the scope of the Public Trust Doctrine, including landmark appellate cases. Public trust cases argued by our attorneys have confirmed the standing of any citizen to sue to prevent a taking of public trust property, even where the DNR has declined enforcement action.

The Public Trust Doctrine may be implicated in riparian real estate transactions, waterfront development, shoreland zoning and riparian rights disputes, bulkhead area leasing, and the DNR’s determination of the location of the ordinary high water mark (OHWM), which establishes the boundary between private land and public trust lakebed.


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