We synthesize literature on the spatial aspects of coupled natural-human systems across a variety of natural resource contexts and introduce a framework that can be used to compare modeling approaches and findings across applications. The important components of these systems include spatial heterogeneity in benefits and costs and connectivity of the network. One or more of these components is necessary for spatial policies to be the efficient solution. We highlight the importance of these components by identifying their role in previous work that shows that spatial differentiation in policy implementation is optimal. We pay particular attention to research highlighting the difference between spatial and aspatial policies and the presence of optimal boundary solutions. Finally, we develop a stylized metapopulation model to relate findings in the spatial bioeconomic literature to the theory of second best in public economics and suggest areas for future analysis.