Leaders in the Colorado mountain town of the Netherlands gave “fundamental and inalienable rights” to its surrounding 448-square-mile watershed, such as those granted to people and corporations – promoting a movement that has gained traction among nature’s concerns.
The Netherlands resolution, which passed 5-1 on 6 July, also directs city trustees to appoint guardians who can speak for nature in local decision-making the way court-appointed guardians of children, suffering from dementia. Speaks for the elderly and pop star Britney Spears.
Under current US law, forests, mountains, and rivers lack legal rights, let alone standing up for representation in court.
Proponents argue that subjugating nature as a commodity that is used to satisfy human demands is leading to disaster as the climate warms and they are pushing for a new paradigm. But federal and state laws can block local measures, and property rights groups are gearing up against what environmentalists see as grabbing a moral high ground.
For now, the focus of the non-binding resolution in the Netherlands (population 1,600) is simply to foster a deeper conversation about the effects of population growth and development – and to avoid litigation. Upcoming trials include new construction in the Caribou Ridge subdivision on moose and elk habitat, and a proposed new reservoir along Boulder Creek.
“It can become a national movement. We are in a very early stage, just getting into the fray with this,” said Netherlands Trustee Alan Apt, a retired publisher and former Fort Collins councilor who led the local effort. “Human needs are important, and we want to make sure that we meet the needs of our human population. But we also need to think about the air, the water, the wildlife, the trees – everything that nature creates. It does. It is an issue of survival.”
At a time when studies warn of the disappearance of open space at the rate of one football field every 30 seconds across the United States, in recent years elected leaders have passed rights to nature ordinances in Santa Monica, Calif.; Toledo, Ohio; Grant Township and Tamaqua, Pa.; Mora County, New Mexico; and Orange County, Fla.
The concept has been swirling around for decades since it emerged Half a century ago in a law professor’s article. The US Supreme Court recognized the potential rights of nature in 1972 addressing a proposed ski resort development in a federal wilderness, with Justice William Douglas declaring in a dissenting opinion that “public concern to protect the ecological balance of nature . .. to sue the objects of the environment for their own protection.”
The United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, an international treaty, urges leaders around the world to “consider and recognize the rights of nature”. The Yurok tribe in California gave rights to the Klamath River in 2019, and Nez Purse did the same with the Snake River last year. Rights to nature are enshrined in Ecuador’s constitution, and Bangladesh gave rivers the same legal rights as humans in 2019.
In 2018 Creston became the first city in Colorado to pass the General Rights of Nature law, part of a push for official certification as a Dark Sky community that regulates light pollution.
The Netherlands is the first municipality in the Rocky Mountain West to pass a measure to specifically designate a watershed, reflecting the essential ecological role of water and based on the inherent rights of nature to the river—recently in Colombia and New Zealand. Conservation court wins.
The organizations leading the movement – the nonprofit Save the Colorado River in Colorado and California-based Earth Law – say that the legal rights of nature to exist, flourish and be restored will guide local government decisions, including the construction of new homes and roads. From construction proposals to new routes. Pipelines for the siphoning of water that humans demand.
They are pushing elected officials in Boulder, Durango, Fort Collins, Lyon, Denver, Steamboat Springs, Eagle, Vail, Buena Vista and Salida to adopt similar non-binding resolutions.
“The aim is to give a direct voice to nature in the government. Nature has never been a voice in the formal legal sense,” said Earth Law Executive Director Grant Wilson. “The Netherlands has sown the seed in Colorado and the Rocky Mountains to recognize rivers and watersheds as living entities with their own rights. “
Q&A effect, causes conflict
Starting a discussion, not a legal war, is the goal, Colorado director Gary Walkner said, though he acknowledged state lawmakers’ desire to empower local governments to protect nature in their areas.
“You go up to Ned, walk down the creek and say: ‘What does it mean that the creek and the watershed have legal rights?’ And you have a conversation with whoever you are with,” he said. “We would call that success.”
But the fights have started. This year, environmental groups filed court case To enforce the Orlando, Fla.-area ordinance passed in November 2020 to declare rights to waterways and block 1,900-acre housing developments that could restrict flow through 115 acres of marshes and streams. State lawmakers have intervened to try to block future rights to nature’s measures, and activists are collecting signatures for the measure’s statewide ballot.
As property rights advocates see it, the Netherlands is expected to have a “feel-good pro-environment resolution” that serves as a “mission statement” for liberals, said lawyer David at the Mountain States Legal Foundation. According to McDonald’s, a non-profit group that champions personal freedom in the West.
“The sky is not falling right now, but those who support property rights should be aware of it. The streams do not have rights,” he said. “Rights, as I understand them, belong to the people, not to the artifacts or natural wonders within the environment. It is important not to give a moral high ground to those who defend property rights who speak up for trees. Huh. “
McDonald said the problem can be traced to Spears’ struggle to break free from her father, who in 2008 was appointed by a court as her guardian. There is a tendency for conflict of interest among parents. “So what are nature’s real interests? Talk to any three activists, they give you three different answers.”
Denver developer Rhys Duggan said the legal right to nature “seems potentially scary” and “open terrain could have the potential to prevent new development”.
He has proposed an eight-figure investment to restore a one-mile stretch of the South Platte River near new high-density housing, keeping his project “on the right” side of nature. “There are also ways to do high-density growth and protect nature, if not increase nature,” he said.
In Boulder, local advocate Steve Jones has been pressuring the city council to adopt a measure for years.
“If we had an ordinance, they would need to be thoroughly reviewed – a dam, a diversion of water, a new mark dividing critical wildlife habitat – before authorities could take action,” and if the species were to be There was danger, so he said, “We will take them to court.”
If municipal leaders around Colorado can get results from a statewide voting initiative, Jones said.
Colorado voters’ track record on environmentally-oriented ballot measures, a recent order from state officials to reintroduce wolves, has left it open to the possibility of establishing legal rights to nature.
“Here’s what young people in Denver and across the state are talking about,” said GreenLatinos and Sunrise Movement leader Ian Tafoya. “If corporations have personality rights, why not the natural world?”
“And I’ve heard talks about ‘going down the voting route,'” he said. “People are so tired of going through the city council.”