It’s been 35 years since Carol Van Strum first published “A Bitter Fog,” the Christopher Award winning book telling the story of a “harmless” herbicide first sprayed over her family farm in 1975.
Her family members became ill. Farm animals and area wildlife died or gave birth to deformed offspring. Her Lincoln County, Oregon, neighbors had similar experiences, including frequent miscarriages of their own pregnancies.
Efforts to get answers as the casualties mounted were stymied by the timber companies, the herbicide makers, and federal agencies like the U.S. Forest Service, the USDA, and the EPA. Residents discovered they’d been sprayed with variations of Agent Orange – which Congress had ultimately banned for use in Viet Nam because of the health effects. That didn’t halt its use in Oregon, however, and while the government collected data on the effects of the chemicals on animals and humans, residents engaged in a decades-long battle to halt the practice.
They were partly successful, getting the U.S. Forest Service to halt aerial herbicide spraying in 1984. That ban did nothing to halt aerial spraying over corporately owned timberlands or state forests.
Ultimately, Van Strum and her neighbors began partnering with CELDF and realized there was a way to combat regulatory agencies that would and could do nothing to prevent any harm, since their job is to permit the harm, and simply limit the amount of harm that will be allowed.
They discovered the Community Rights movement, and the concept of passing local ordinances to refuse consent to any harm, and therefore end the flyovers spewing their poisonous mists that contaminate the soil, wildlife, surface waters, creeks, rivers, lakes and estuaries throughout their county.
“Neither the federal nor the state governments, bought and paid for by corporate interests, will act to protect us, so it is up to local governments to do so,” Van Strum says.
Reinforcements to Carol’s unwavering efforts to stop the poisoning came through people in Lincoln County like Rio Davidson, Maria Sauss, Debra Fant, Barbara Davis and others from the community group Lincoln County Community Rights who partnered with CELDF to draft an ordinance banning aerial spraying throughout the county. In May 2017 the people of Lincoln County voted the ordinance into law, protecting the health of people and nature – despite a multi-million dollar campaign against the ordinance, waged by corporate timber and chemical interests.
Private timber concerns immediately sued the county over the democratically-enacted law, on the premise that state law preempts local self-government. That case is yet to be decided, so for over a year now, with the law in effect, there has been no aerial spraying of pesticides in Lincoln County.
True to form, Carol once again stepped forward and agreed to speak on behalf of nature in the lawsuit, by helping the Siletz River watershed intervene. “I am part of the ecosystems of Lincoln County, and like the Lorax, I speak for the rights of waters and forests and wildlife to challenge human violations of natural law,” Van Strum declares.
Carol’s 35-year-long campaign, championing the stoppage of aerial pesticide use – and championing Rights of Nature – has brought her accolades this year, including the David Brower Lifetime Achievement Award from the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference.
CELDF, too, salutes Lincoln County Community Rights and Carol Van Strum: they are Rights of Nature champions.
Carol Van Strum is a champion for Community Rights. You can help support her and others like her working to reclaim local democracy, recognize inalienable rights to clean air and water, and be a CELDF Champion, too.
Here’s what your help can do in 2019:
- $25 covers postage for 100 Common Sense newspapers.
- $50 ensures a community member can attend a Community Rights workshop, teaching the tools needed to confront corporate control and state interference on a powerful single front: people’s and nature’s inalienable rights.
- $100 covers travel expenses for our community organizer to speak at an event educating residents on Community Rights.
- $250 allows us to print and distribute informational handouts on Community Rights and Rights of Nature as tools to protect local communities.
- $500 allows us to provide 10 scholarships to community members to attend a Community Rights workshop.
Featured image: echos by Keirsten Marie, Flickr Creative Commons