Private landowner on Kaua’i legally recognizes nature’s rights through conservation easement



Kai Huschke

HAWAII:  For the first time, ecosystems and natural communities on eight acres of land on the island of Kaua’i possess legal rights to exist, thrive, regenerate, and evolve. This is the first Rights of Nature conservation easement on the Hawaiian Islands.

The effects of pollution and climate change wrought by corporate practices are devastating habitats and destabilizing communities on Hawaii and other Pacific islands. For many residents, waiting for government to protect them is no longer an option.

“Rights of Nature is already in the air, the sea, and the people of Hawaii, so recognizing legal Rights of Nature on land that is in my name came quite easily for me,” explained Joan Porter, the Kaua’i landowner who recognized nature’s rights through the conservation easement. “I established the easement in hopes that other landowners and governments will also understand the need to change the status of nature from property to bearing rights.”

The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) has pioneered the Rights of Nature movement in the U.S. and globally. The Rights of Nature conservation easements are a growing part of that movement.

CELDF assisted Porter in the drafting of the easement, making Kaua’i the second locality where a private landowner in the U.S. changed the status of nature through an easement to recognize the rights of ecosystems and natural communities in perpetuity. The Kaua’i easement contains provisions on climate change, genetic engineering, restriction of corporate rights, and enforcement language.

A key partner in the Rights of Nature work in Hawaii has been the Kaua’i-based organization Coherence Lab. Prajna Horn, co-founder and executive director, stated, “There is a fundamental shift happening across our planet today, where more people are beginning to understand Indigenous wisdom and the inseparable relationship between humans and the Earth. Rights of Nature is rooted in Indigenous wisdom and is based on aligning with Natural Law. Thus, the legalization of the Rights of Nature is really about a remembering of how to live a harmonious, balanced and respectful life for the sake future generations. I’ve been engaged in the Rights of Nature movement for close to a decade. Through this conservation easement and other Rights of Nature work, I am grateful to have had the chance to bring CELDF to Kaua’i.”

For over a decade, CELDF has been assisting communities, countries, and tribal nations to transform the legal status of nature. In 2006, Tamaqua Borough, Pennsylvania, became the first government in the world to legally recognize nature’s rights. Since then, more than three dozen communities in more than 10 states in the U.S. have secured nature’s rights. In 2008, CELDF assisted Ecuador to draft constitutional provisions recognizing the Rights of Nature. The new constitution was overwhelmingly adopted by citizens. Most recently, the General Council of the Ho-Chunk Nation in Wisconsin approved an amendment to their tribal constitution to recognize the Rights of Nature.

As the Rights of Nature builds momentum, in the past year, courts in India and Colombia have issued decisions recognizing the rights of rivers and glaciers. In its decision securing rights of the Atrato River, the Colombia Constitutional Court wrote:

“…[H]uman populations are those that are interdependent on the natural world – not the other way around – and…they must assume the consequences of their actions and omissions in relation to nature. It’s about understanding this new socio-political reality with the aim of achieving a respectful transformation with the natural world and its environment, just as has happened before with civil and political rights…economic, social and cultural rights…and environmental rights.”

“The Rights of Nature easement is a bold first step in a broader legal and cultural paradigm shift,” says Kai Huschke, Northwest and Hawaii organizer for CELDF. “For generations, the people and ecosystems of Hawaii have endured ‘legalized’ colonization, toxic pollutants, and GMOs. People are saying ‘Enough!’ Many residents in Hawaii – and around the world – are moving towards law being used to protect the rights of coral reefs or the rights of tropical forests, rather than law being used to destroy them.” 

About CELDF — Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund

The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund is a non-profit, public interest law firm providing free and affordable legal services to communities facing threats to their local environment, local agriculture, local economy, and quality of life. Its mission is to build sustainable communities by assisting people to assert their right to local self-government and the Rights of Nature.


Additional Resources