Author, journalist and sometime park ranger Ken Ilgunas
has written an argument in favor a “right to roam.” This concept, unfamiliar to most Americans, is one of an ability to traverse public and private property for purposes of enjoying nature. In This Land is Our Land: How We Lost the Right to Roam and How to Take It Back
(Plume, 2018), Ilgunas compares U.S. property laws with the traditions and laws of England, Scotland and Scandinavian countries. In these nations a right to roam has been recognized and, Ilgunas argues, has been a boon to citizens’ enjoyment of their nations’ lands, while also protecting the property rights of private owners. Ilgunas addresses owners’ concerns about the use and enjoyment of their land and makes the case that a “right to roam” would be beneficial to owners and members of the public alike. Yet, Ilgunas also acknowledges the obstacles to creating such a right in the United States: popular understandings of the sacredness of private property, fears of lawsuits, the existence of public lands as alternative venues, and the federal and state systems of land management. Ilgunas also concedes that a “right to roam” is not merely a legal problem but a problem regarding long-held perceptions of the moral rightness of private property and the ability to exclude others from using one’s land.
Ian J. Drake is an Associate Professor of Political Science and Law at Montclair State University. His scholarly interests include American legal and constitutional history and political theory.