Defending Ecuador’s Los Cedros forest

Marianne Brooker 14th July 2020

Marianne Brooker is The Ecologist's content editor. This article is based on a press release from Save Los Cedros Reserve.

Ecuador's protected forests to define Rights of Nature and test jurisprudence in country’s Constitutional Court.


The Constitutional Court of Ecuador, the highest court in the land, has announced it will take on the case of the threatened Los Cedros Protected Forest by using the Rights of Nature enshrined in the constitution.

The Constitutional Court chose to hear this case recently and apply, for the first time, Ecuador’s constitutionally mandated Rights of Nature providing legal recognition for over 6 million acres (2.4 m hectares) of Protected Forests.

The government has been promoting large scale metal mining for some years now, without respecting the national network of Protected Forests or Indigenous Territories.


Precedent

José DeCoux, manager of Los Cedros explained: “We’re very excited that the Constitutional Court has picked up this case, specifically because it is recognizing the importance of setting precedence for the Rights of Nature.


"We have been presenting arguments that mining in Protected Forests is a violation of the legal status of declared Protected Areas; the collective rights of indigenous peoples; the Rights of Nature; and the right of communities to prior consultation before potential environmental damages, respectively.” 

Jonathon Porritt, a leading environmentalist, echoed this view: “Ecuador was the first nation to include the Rights of Nature in its constitution. It could now become the first nation to protect large swathes of biodiversity, based upon this constitutional innovation. This would set an invaluable precedent worldwide.”


Los Cedros in north western Ecuador is one of the most biologically diverse habitats in the world, with more than 4,800 hectares (nearly 12,000 acres) of primary cloud forest, and it safeguards the headwaters of four important watersheds.


It protects over 200 species with high extinction risk, five of which are regarded as critically endangered by the Ecuadorian government (see Roy et al. 2018, iNaturalist, and the Los Cedros website for more information).


Mining Dr Mika Peck from Sussex University said: “The remoteness and high-quality of the habitat explain why there are six species of cats and three species of primate, including some of the last critically endangered brown-headed spider monkeys in the world, as well as the endangered Andean spectacled bear. New species are also being discovered every year."


The impending case will help determine the balance between short-term economic gains through mining development and the slower — but generally more sustainable — economic development that accompanies long-term biodiversity conservation.


Elisa Levy, of OMASNE (Observatorio Minero Ambiental y Social del Norte del Ecuador) a non-profit, mining watchdog group in northern Ecuador, explained the legal footing: “In 2017, the Ecuadorian government announced new concessions for mining exploration on over 2.4m hectares (6m acres) of land, a roughly 300 percent increase.

"Many of these exploratory concessions are in previously protected forests and indigenous territories, as well in headwater ecosystems and biodiversity hotspots of global importance, like Los Cedros and they appear to be in violation of Ecuadorian law and international treaties.”

As part of this rapid mining expansion, Canadian mining company Cornerstone Capital Resources was given a permit for gold mining in collaboration with the Ecuadorian state mining company, ENAMI. All this despite the Ministry of Environment’s own publication citing Los Cedros in its ‘Areas of Priority for the Conservation of Biodiversity in Ecuador’.


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