Recognizing Rights of Nature through a First-in-the-Country Deed Easement


Pennsylvania Landowner Recognizes Rights of Nature through a First-in-the-Country Deed Easement: Bans Fracking for Shale Gas

Urges Other Landowners Across the Country to Follow His Lead

Contact: J. Stephen Cleghorn, PhD

(814) 568-1207

[A press conference will be held at 2771 Paradise Road, Reynoldsville, PA 15851, on November 14th at 1:00 pm.  Cleghorn and representatives of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund will give a presentation and be available for interviews.]

Paradise Community, Henderson Township, Jefferson County, PA, November 14, 2012 – J. Stephen Cleghorn, PhD, a Pennsylvania organic farmer, has become the first landowner in the United States to use a conservation easement (a kind of deed restriction) to recognize, create and protect the Rights of Nature. The easement then bans activities like hydro-fracking for shale gas which would violate those rights, and elevates the Rights of Nature above the power claimed by extractive energy corporations to despoil the environment.

Cleghorn is the owner of Paradise Gardens and Farm– a fifty acre organic farm that sits above the Marcellus Shale formation in Henderson Township, Jefferson County, Pennsylvania.

Cleghorn established the easement in memory of his late wife, Dr. Lucinda Hart-González who died of lung cancer on November 14, 2011. On May 10 of this year Ms. Hart-González’s ashes were scattered on the property and the farm was declared forever inviolate and off-limits to shale gas fracking. The easement is dated as of the first anniversary of her death.

Over the last six months, Cleghorn has worked with the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), a nonprofit, Pennsylvania-based law firm, to create an easement which secures the Rights of Nature legally on this property. The Legal Defense Fund has assisted over three dozen municipal governments in eight states to create local laws that recognize the Rights of Nature, and assisted in the drafting of the declaration of rights in the new Ecuadorian Constitution, through which Ecuador became the first country in the world to recognize the Rights of Nature.

Although warned by his lawyer that the easement might reduce his property’s value, Cleghorn states: “It’s not really my property. Nature had it first. Human laws that carve it up into market commodities that can be traded and sold matter less to me than the first rights of Nature. Besides, a recent study showed that shale gas drilling reduces the property value by 24% when that property depends on private water wells as mine does. For me this easement preserves this land for organic farming and protects it from an extreme form of fossil fuel extraction. I know plenty of potential buyers who would go along with those conditions. In the long run as we try to save this planet from us, I think I’ll be just fine on property value.”

Thomas Linzey, the Executive Director of CELDF, applauded Cleghorn’s actions, stating that “the time has come for the corporate ’right’ to destroy the earth be subordinated to the rights of our communities and nature. Stephen’s actions, in honor of his late wife, represent an expansion of the resistance against gas corporations in the State.”

Both Cleghorn and Linzey called on other landowners across the state, in addition to municipal governments, to take action to recognize the rights of communities and nature through both easements and local laws. A new Pennsylvania-based organization, the Terra Conservancy, is being established by CELDF to receive and enforce rights of nature easements.


About jstephencleghorn

My name is Dr. J. Stephen Cleghorn. I am now a resident of Baltimore, MD. I continue to own a 50-acre certified organic farm in Jefferson County, PA that I operated with my late wife Lucinda between 2005 and 2011 when she passed away from cancer. The farm is now under lease to organic farmers and protected by "The Dr. Lucinda Hart-Gonzalez Conservation Easement” which protects it for organic agriculture and against the threats of industrial development that would violate the Rights of Nature. The blog’s name is taken from the writings of Saint Augustine who believed “Hope” to be the greatest of spiritual gifts. And, says Saint Augustine, Hope has two lovely daughters: Anger and Courage. Anger so that what must not be may not be; courage so that what should be can be. Anger and Courage. Now in late 2016, after the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States, these are the spiritual gifts that must come to the fore if we are to have “Hope” for a loving culture and a sustainable world for future generations. When I first created this blog it was focused on the extreme form of fossil fuel extraction known as “fracking” that was threatening much of the state of Pennsylvania and many other parts of the United States. At the root of that struggle was and is a struggle to halt and reverse climate change. Now the struggle has turned to resisting an incoming Trump Administration that is an existential threat to the climate with its plans to ramp up extraction and use of fossil fuels. This blog will be about having the courage to stand up to the massive global corporations that would ruin our planet and its climate, take their profits and leave the mess to future generations of to clean up. We need to rise up, my friends, and be not afraid.
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3 Responses to Recognizing Rights of Nature through a First-in-the-Country Deed Easement

  1. Pingback: One-man Ban: Pennsylvania Farmer Fights for His Land « Protecting Our Waters

  2. Jo Shrimplin says:

    I am half owner of a Civil War Grant farm in Ohio that has been in the family all the years since. It is currently certified organic farm land. I am planning to leave at least my half deed restricted to deny oil and gas exploration and production. I will closely follow your actions and so appreciate your lead.

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