By Matt Peters, ADP Events and Outreach Coordinator
JEFFERSON COUNTY-- A Pennsylvania farmer is pioneering the art of land preservation, in a unique application of a conservation easement on the property deed of his organic farm. By establishing certain deed restrictions and creating a Rights of Nature constitutional document, J. Stephen Cleghorn of Paradise Gardens and Farm has become the first farmer in the state to protect his land for all time using this method. Cleghorn established the easement in memory of his late wife, Dr. Lucinda Hart-González who died of lung cancer on November 14, 2011. On May 10 of 2012 Ms. Hart-González's ashes were scattered on the property and the farm was declared forever inviolate and off-limits to shale gas fracking. The easement is dated as of the first anniversary of her death.
The easement was created with the help of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), a nonprofit, Pennsylvania-based law firm. The Legal Defense Fund has assisted over three dozen municipal governments in eight states to create local laws that recognize the Rights of Nature, and assisted in the drafting of the declaration of rights in the new Ecuadorian Constitution, through which Ecuador became the first country in the world to recognize the Rights of Nature. “The time has come that the corporate ’right’ to destroy the earth be subordinated to the rights of our communities and nature,” stated CELDF Executive Director Thomas Linzey.
Any restriction on a property deed can potentially reduce the value of that property, but Cleghorn is confident that in the long run, easements like this on mid- to large-acre land parcels will hold their own in future real estate markets. “The shale gas damage to our farmland is going to reduce the value by some 24% anyway, so I might as well protect my water and my woodlot as best I can,” he said. “I know plenty of buyers who would go along with those kinds of conditions.”
According to CELDF, “Under the current system of law in almost every country, nature is considered to be property, a treatment which confers upon the property owner the right to manipulate and destroy ecosystems on that property. When we talk about the “rights of nature,” it means recognizing that ecosystems and natural communities are not merely property that can be owned, but are entities that have an independent right to exist and flourish. Laws recognizing the rights of nature thus change the status of natural communities and ecosystems to being recognized as rights-bearing entities with rights that can be enforced by people, governments, and communities.” (http://www.celdf.org/-1-27 )
Both Cleghorn and Linzey urge other landowners and municipal governments across the state to take action to recognize the rights of communities and nature through both easements and local laws. A new Pennsylvania-based organization, the Terra Conservancy, is being established by CELDF to receive and enforce Rights of Nature easements.