Nature Intervenes

Nature Intervenes

31 July, 2017
Legal rights of ecosystems
Oregon river files lawsuit to defend its rights

The Siletz River Ecosystem in Lincoln County, Oregon, has filed a motion to intervene a lawsuit, making it the third ecosystem in the US to take legal steps to protect its own rights.

Man against nature

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit—Rex Capri and Wakefield Farms of Eddyville—are attempting to overturn a Community Bill of Rights law, an ordinance that proclaims freedom from aerial sprayed pesticides for the locals, adopted by Lincoln County voters. The two plaintiffs contend that their right to the use of pesticides overrides any rights of the ecosystems and those of the local communities that ban their practice due to the endangerment of public health. Lincoln County Community Rights was granted intervention on July 2, 2017. In the afternoon of July 24th, the Siletz River Ecosystem filed a motion to intervene the lawsuit.

“The Declaration of Independence itself asserts that the laws of nature pre-empt human law,” said Carol Van Strum, the author of "A Bitter Fog: Herbicides and Human Rights" and an advocate for the intervention of the Siletz River Ecosystem. “Like the Lorax, I speak for the rights of waters and forests and wildlife to challenge human violations of natural law.”

Having lost 46 per cent of its forest in the last 16 years, the Siletz watershed is plagued by massive clear-cuts as a result of strip-logging activities in the region. This occurs most notably in areas that have been aerially sprayed with pesticides multiple times—steep terrains that are barren of vegetation. These are prone to mudslides that degrade the natural habitats of salmon and steelheads. The run-off of toxic pesticides also poses an imminent risk of contaminating a major source of drinking water in the county.

Legally recognising the rights of nature

Precedent cases of nature attaining legal rights to protects its own sustainability can be found across the globe. In 2008, Ecuador was the first country to openly acknowledge the legal rights of nature by incorporating it in its rewritten federal constitution. The high courts in India and Columbia have recognised the rights of rivers, which in New Zealand are granted personhood with claims to human rights.

Much of the controversy at hand is caused by the mixed opinion on the rights of nature. "Bitter Fog" author Van Strum suggests that the relationship between nature and mankind is a co-dependent one. “Because no matter how many suits and ties and shiny vehicles we hide behind, we are still and always a part of nature, so if nature has no rights, neither do we," she said. Previously explored in our interview with Cormac Cullinan on nature's rights, the idea is that we cannot have healthy humans on an unhealthy planet. As we constitute an irreducible part of nature, our well-being is also undeniably tied to the health of our planet.

Do the rights of nature sound unfathomable still? Perhaps we should try seeing ourselves as being part of nature, instead of standing opposed and superior to it. You may realise the notion of natural rights is not as far-fetched and radical as you once thought.

By: Nicole Tang


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