This summer, I met Elizabeth Moore, a philanthropist whose passion is the environment, at her home at Triangle Ranch near Myakka River State Park. The occasion was a book signing, but the scenery was what captivated me. The ranch sits on an irreplaceable and breathtakingly beautiful piece of Florida’s wetland ecosystem, filled with oak hammocks and nurtured by miles of the Myakka River. Moore bought the property from a ranching family about three years ago with the sole purpose of saving 1,143 acres from an inevitable future as a subdivision. As I looked at the land, I felt enormously grateful to Moore.
Most of us aren’t wealthy philanthropists and can’t buy Florida land that needs to be saved. But we do have a chance to save natural Florida by supporting a petition campaign to put five conservation amendments to Florida’s Constitution on the 2022 election ballot.
Proposed by FL5.org, a political action committee, these five citizen initiatives are unconventional and ingenious. If passed, they would give rights not only to citizens—for example, the right to clean water—but also to land, water and wildlife. This approach is significant because right now, citizens and communities are limited by regulatory laws that specify what, where and how much we can pollute. Under this new approach, nature has standing as the injured party if its rights are violated, and citizens will have the legal authority to enforce those rights.
If this sounds far-fetched, remember that corporations have been given rights and legal personhood. And as Chuck O’Neal, president of the Florida Rights of Nature Network likes to point out, Floridians are fed up with blue-green algae, red tide and other signs of environmental deterioration that state leaders have done next to nothing to address.
Last November, 89 percent of Orange County voters—a bipartisan landslide—passed a rights of nature charter amendment. After the vote, an Orlando Sentinel column described Florida as “the epicenter of the rights of nature movement in the United States.”
One groundbreaking result: This spring, nature—yes, nature—filed a lawsuit in Orange County to stop a housing development. The plaintiffs were Wilde Cypress Branch, Boggy Branch, Crosby Island Marsh, Lake Hart and Lake Mary Jane. In effect, nature is asserting its right to exist and to be protected from pollution. In addition to protecting water and wetlands, the amendments would prohibit toll roads through conservation lands, hunting of certain animal species and all “captive hunting,” where hunters pay to shoot animals kept on a game farm or other enclosed area.
Most of us are here because we fell in love with Florida’s environment of beautiful beaches and waterways. But clean water that nurtures our lifestyle starts far from the coast and must be protected. Giving nature a voice in Florida might be a powerful way to save it.
If you’re interested in learning more, go to FL5.org to read the full text of the amendment and, if you wish, to sign the petitions. The petitioners have until Nov. 30 to collect 900,000 signatures.