A victory for nature and conservation

Ecuador’s highest court enforced constitutional ‘Rights of Nature’ to safeguard Los Cedros protected forest. The Los Cedros Reserve, located in north western Ecuador, is one of the most biologically diverse habitats in the world, with nearly 12,000 acres of primary cloud forest. It protects over 200 species of high extinction risk, including plants, mammals, amphibians, insects, and fungi. Five species are critically endangered and several are known from nowhere else in the world. The court decided that activities that threaten the rights of nature should not be carried out within the Los Cedros Protected Forest ecosystem and canceled the mining rights on this land, including the water and environmental permits for mineral exploration. Importantly, the court reaffirmed that the rights of nature are not limited to protected lands.

This ruling was the first of its kind

What you may not know is that two CMS members were integral to this landmark decision. Dr. Bitty Roy and Dr. Roo Vandegrift were among 17 scientists who shared their findings on the significance of the biodiversity at the Los Cedros Reserve and other protected forests to the Constitutional Court in Ecuador on October 19, 2020. The landmark decision was issued on December 1, 2021.

CMS life member Dr. Bitty Roy of the University of Oregon (UO) Institute of Ecology and Evolution has supervised 9 research projects at the Los Cedros research station since 2008. “I fell in love with Los Cedros the first step I took there,” Roy said. “I have traveled and done research all over the world, including in tropical Africa and Asia, but nowhere else is as biologically rich.” Bitty spoke to CMS about “Mushroom mimicry by Dracula orchids and other cool stuff in the cloud forest”,  in December of 2008 after her very first trip to Los Cedros.

Bitty’s detailed species lists for Los Cedros, based on scientific papers as well as observations on iNaturalist and eBird, along with the paper “New Mining Concessions Could Severely Decrease Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services in Ecuador” spearheaded by Bitty and published in 2018, were key evidence that she presented to the Constitutional Court. She also involved the Center for Biological Diversity and convinced more than 1200 scientists, including Jane Goodall and EO Wilson, to sign a petition that was presented as an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief to the court.

 Dr. Roo Vandegrift, who currently works as a Mycology Identifier for the USDA at the Port of Miami, was one of the many graduate students that Bitty invited to do research at Los Cedros under her supervision. The Cascade Mycological Society granted Roo $1000 in 2013 to assist with his research related to “Diversity and dispersal of tropical forest Xylariaceae”. Roo talked to CMS about his research conducted at Los Cedros in November of 2014.

In 2019, Roo mounted a Kickstarter Campaign to produce “Marrow of the Mountain”, a documentary about the impact of mining in Ecuador. He went on to receive additional funding from National Geographic to bring together an international team of scientists to go deep into the Los Cedros Protected Forest. “We already know that there are over 200 species at Los Cedros in danger of extinction, but the undocumented, undiscovered life that is here very likely dwarfs that. And there are no protections for species that haven’t yet even been described” said Dr. Vandegrift.

Dr. Vandegrift spoke to CMS about the film project in May of 2020, shortly after his international team of researchers returned from their first expedition to document the species diversity of Los Cedros.  As described by Roo: “Our film follows: Filomena Rosero, an outspoken indigenous elder of the Awá people; Isabel Anagono, an Afro-Ecuadorian farmer, writer, and grandmother; Elisa Levy, an Ecuadorian biologist and environmental activist whose unending love and devotion encompasses all who know her; and the Richer Than Gold Scientific Expedition, a group of scientists searching for rare and undiscovered species deep in the unexplored heart of the Los Cedros Biological Reserve, a protected forest threatened by mining.”

I should also mention that Dan Thomas, a 2017 CMS Scholarship recipient and past CMS member also did research at Los Cedros under Bitty’s supervision. Dan spoke to CMS in May of 2017 about his research conducted at Los Cedros and the HJ Andrews Forest right here in Oregon. And, after a conversation with Bitty at a CMS meeting; Loretta Huston, a long time CMS member and local Eugene activist, went as a volunteer with Bitty’s team to Los Cedros in 2012. She helped observe insects, collect mushrooms, and practiced her Spanish.

This court case victory is a result of the passionate work of hundreds if not thousands of local Ecuadorans, research scientists, and several non-profit conservation groups, but especially the Australian Rainforest Information Centre which has supported the reserve from the beginning. Key organizations in the lawsuit were Earth Law CenterGlobal Alliance for the Rights of Nature, and the Center for Biological Diversity.

As stated in a December 22, 2021 paper in the Neotropical Biodiversity Journal about Los Cedros and this court case, “If Ecuador’s Constitutional Court rules in favor of Los Cedros, it would set a legal precedent with enormous positive impact for biological conservation in Ecuador, Latin America, and, potentially, the world.” If you would like to see greater protections and conservation for fungi, you can sign this petition at Fauna Flora Funga. This is an initiative to protect fungi under international and domestic law, and unlock crucial funding for mycological research, surveys and educational programs.

Update from Roo on “Marrow of the Mountain” film production: We’ve been really active lately, with our crew back up at Los Cedros filming reactions to the historic Constitutional Court decision, and then setting down for an editing retreat in Quito, Ecuador to put together the first full complete cut of the film. We’ve been in the midst of a fundraising drive, with strong support from our Australian partners Rainforest Information Centre, to support that editing retreat, and have already raised more than $7000, which will go to pay our Ecuadorian teammates and cover the costs of filming up at Los Cedros from last week. If you are interested, here is a short film titled Ecuador: Under Threat from Mining, and a video on Jose’ DeCoux, founder of the Los Cedros Reserve. And, if anyone feels called to donate to support this work, every dollar counts, and donations are tax deductible: donations can be made here

Stay informed:Los Cedros Reservethe Bitty Roy Lab at UOMarrow of the Mountain.

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