The City of Santa Monica recently passed an ordinance, directing the City to “recognize the rights of people, natural communities, and ecosystems to exist, regenerate and flourish,” joining a rapidly growing international “Nature Rights” movement. “Nature Rights” recognizes that healthy ecosystems and biodiversity are critical to all life on the planet, including humans, and human priorities do not automatically take precedence over natural habitat and ecosystem health.
Undeveloped lands in Santa Cruz City and County are rapidly diminishing, even those lands designated as Greenbelts and Natural Areas, such as Arana Gulch targeted for development by the City, ironically in the name of environmentalism. Although Arana Gulch is designated Critical Habitat for the endangered Santa Cruz tarplant, the City has successfully argued that human desire for a paved bike route is more important than protection and preservation of undeveloped natural habitat.
It’s time for the City and County of Santa Cruz to recognize that it cannot destroy natural habitats in its jurisdiction without severe consequences to the web of life that sustains us all. There is no department in our government bureaucracy that speaks up for non-human consideration in planning development projects. Regional regulatory bodies are increasingly dominated by development interests, resulting in an accelerating loss of natural habitat. The County’s Commission on the Environment is an advisory body for the County Board of Supervisors and has no regulatory powers to protect natural habitats in the County.
In order to maintain a balanced regulatory environment, we must have City and County Environment Departments, just as we have Planning, Public Works and Economic Devlopment Departments. The job of the Environment Departments would be to see that biodiversity, natural habitats and undeveloped lands are not diminished, degraded or lost to human economic development, guided by City and County regulations similar to that of Santa Monica and other enlightehed municipalities.
Recognition of Nature Rights would not stop human development, but would place consideration of the health of non-human species on par with human economic growth.