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Newport, Oregon: This afternoon the Siletz River Ecosystem filed a motion to intervene in the lawsuit Rex Capri and Wakefield Farms, LLC v. Dana W. Jenkins and Lincoln County, and Lincoln County Community Rights. This is the third ecosystem in the United States to take legal action to protect its rights, secured in this case by Measure 21-177, which was adopted by Lincoln County voters in the May 2017 election.
The two plaintiffs – Rex Capri of Newport and Wakefield Farms of Eddyville – claim that their “right” to spray toxic pesticides aerially is greater than the right of the people of Lincoln County to protect public health, clean water, and the rights of ecosystems and natural communities not to be poisoned from the air.
Lincoln County Community Rights (LCCR) was granted intervention in the case on July 2, 2017, after the county made it clear that their interest lies merely in getting an opinion from the court and not in actively defending the law adopted by voters in May.
“I have lived in Lincoln County for 43 years in a home surrounded by river and forest. I am part of the ecosystems of Lincoln County,” says Carol Van Strum, advocate for the intervention of the Siletz Ecosystem. “The Declaration of Independence itself asserts that the laws of nature pre-empt human law. Like the Lorax, I speak for the rights of waters and forests and wildlife to challenge human violations of natural law.”
For the first time, the Siletz ecosystem and all Lincoln County natural communities and ecosystems have secured the right to be free from toxic trespass from aerially sprayed pesticides, a right that is essential to ecosystems’ on-going health, function and survival. That right is stated in Section 2(a) of Measure 21-177 or the Freedom from Aerially Sprayed Pesticides Ordinance of Lincoln County.
The Siletz watershed has lost 46% of its forest in the last 16 years. Huge clear-cuts resulting from strip logging abound in the area and have all been aerially sprayed with pesticides multiple times. Barren of vegetation, the steep terrain causes mudslides and pesticide run-off into the river and smaller feeder creeks, posing a high risk of contaminating a major source of drinking water for Lincoln County, and additionally destroying crucial habitat for salmon and steelhead.
Over the last year, high courts in New Zealand, India, and Colombia have recognized rights for rivers as a means of creating a higher standard of protection for those ecosystems. In Ecuador, the federal constitution has recognized rights of nature since 2008, and two different legal cases have affirmed that rivers have rights and that human activity violates those rights. Restitution penalties go to restoring the ecosystem.
“Protecting nature’s rights through law came from rural, conservative Pennsylvania”, says Kai Huschke of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, the public interest law firm representing LCCR and the Siletz Ecosystem. “Decades of environmental destruction in Pennsylvania made it a no brainer for folks there to protect what sustains them at the highest level. Today over three dozen communities in the United States, including Lincoln County, have stepped forward to secure nature’s rights.”
Though the lawsuit continues to move forward, there is no indication as to how soon the court will respond to the motion to intervene by the Siletz River Ecosystem.
Lincoln County Community Rights is a public benefit organization that seeks to educate and empower people to exercise their right of local community self-government in matters that pertain to their fundamental rights, their natural environment, their quality of life, their health and their safety. Given the harms that people and ecosystems suffer from the practice of aerial spraying of industrial forest land with pesticides, the group drafted an ordinance to ban aerial pesticide spraying in Lincoln County, Oregon. Measure 21-177 was adopted by voters in May 2017, making Lincoln County the first county in the United States to ban aerial pesticide spraying through the vote of the people.