Kai Huschke

OREGON: Tomorrow evening, Carol Van Strum will receive the David Brower Lifetime Achievement Award at a public ceremony in Eugene, Oregon. The international honor is named after David Brower, one of the founders of the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, and the Earth Island Institute, and is awarded in recognition of activists, community members, and attorneys who have engaged in outstanding environmental and social justice work. Recipients are chosen who exemplify David Brower’s spirit and the environmental awareness he sought to awaken in people. The award is presented by the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference, which is being held March 1-4 at the University of Oregon School of Law.


Van Strum began working with the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) in 2017, to defend Lincoln County, Oregon’s community rights ban on aerially sprayed pesticides. Lincoln residents worked with CELDF to draft the measure, which was adopted by voters last May. It was the first county-wide prohibition on aerial sprayed pesticides in the country, and included the recognition of the rights of nature. The timber industry filed a lawsuit to overturn the measure. Van Strum quickly took action to defend the rights of the Siletz River.

“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. The Declaration of Independence itself asserts that the laws of nature preempt human law. Like the Lorax, I speak for the rights of waters and forests and wildlife to challenge human violations of natural law,” said Van Strum when she filed to intervene in the case last year. CELDF provided legal representation. A court decision on the rights-based ban is expected soon.

Van Strum has also been fighting the U.S. Navy’s efforts to weaponize Oregon coastal waters and take over national forests and other public lands for weapons testing and war games.  Further, in 2017, “The Poison Papers” were published, largely because of Van Strum.  The papers are a compilation of Van Strum’s efforts over 40 years to document evidence (100,000 pages) of fraudulent studies and false data used by the chemical industry and government regulators to approve poison products for industries, such as industrial logging.

Van Strum, however, is most well known for her fight to stop the spraying of Agent Orange and other herbicides on federal forest land in the Five Rivers Valley of Lincoln County, Oregon, in the 1970-80’s. She documented her successful efforts in a book titled “A Bitter Fog: Herbicides and Human Rights,” which details the tragic stories of families affected by aerial pesticide spraying in the Five Rivers area, including Van Strum’s own children. Van Strum exposes the fraudulent studies and corruption that allow continued use of poisons in state and private lands nationwide. Her book also highlights the importance of community rights:

“Giving human rights to corporations, says lawyer Gerry Spence, is like ‘giving an ant and a bulldozer equal rights to run over each other.’ It’s easy to feel like that ant when challenging a faceless industry behemoth, but while one ant may be powerless, a thousand ants can disable even a bulldozer, chewing through hydraulic and fuel lines, jamming control switches, swarming the hapless operator. Similarly, enough informed people can bring the machinery of death to a halt. The burgeoning community rights movement offers hope for such collective power.”

Oregon Communities Part of Growing Movement

Oregon residents are advancing local democratic and environmental rights as part of the broader Community Rights movement building across the United States. Local communities and state Community Rights Networks are partnering with CELDF to advance fundamental democratic and environmental rights. They are working with CELDF to establish community rights and the rights of nature in law, and prohibit extraction, fracking, pesticide use, water privatization, and other industrial activities as violations of those rights. Communities are joining together within and across states, working with CELDF to advance systemic change – recognizing our existing system of law and governance as inherently undemocratic and unsustainable. 

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.




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