Saturday, October 16, 2021

Does nature have a legal right to exist? Colorado mountain town says yes

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.

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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.”

RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post

Trustee Alan Apt of the Netherlands walks along Boulder Creek on July 19, 2021 in Boulder.

multiplication measure

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.

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