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ELAW Fellows Benedette Mutuku of Kenya and Adolf Runyoro of Tanzania

Thank you for helping make 2013 a productive, rewarding, and great year.

We have hosted ELAW Fellows from Honduras, India, Israel, Kenya, Mexico, Mongolia, Pakistan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Turkey, and Ukraine.

Working one-on-one with these Fellows and many more inspiring leaders, we have helped protect communities and the environment around the world.

With your support, we have helped protect clean air, clean water, and healthy ecosystems.

We appreciate everyone who helped ELAW, whether hosting a Fellow, attending an ELAW event, sharing ELAW news with a friend, or making a donation.

From all of us at ELAW, thank you for making our work possible!

Bern Johnson
Executive Director

Marissa KnoedelEach summer, ELAW welcomes an interdisciplinary team of interns to our office in Eugene, Oregon. This week, Legal Intern Marissa Knodel blogged about her experience at ELAW on the Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy website.

Marissa is earning a dual degree through Vermont Law School and the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. She is working with ELAW’s legal team to help communities around the world advocate for environmental justice.

Marissa begins her blog post: “The next time I am asked whether I can be an advocate for people and places with the least information, access to, and ability to obtain a just, healthy, and resilient future, and have a career, I can confidently answer  ‘yes!’”

She goes on to say, “Largely dependent upon volunteers and unpaid interns, the ELAW community is more value- than profit-driven. Non-profit legal work, in sum, is simultaneously rewarding and humbling in the most satisfactory way. ELAW has already taught me that to be a more effective environmental and public interest lawyer, one must first identify as an environmental and community advocate.”

ELAW is delighted to be working with Marissa and other aspiring environmental and human rights defenders to build the next generation of committed public interest advocates.

To read Marissa’s full blog post, titled, “Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide in Eugene, OR: Where Lawyers are Advocates,” click here.

Keep an eye out for a future post about ELAW’s intern program and how you can get involved.

Melanie Giangreco
Volunteer Coordinator

group on mountain cropped

2012 ELAW Annual Meeting Goa, India

2012 has been a great year for ELAW. We have so much to look back on that it is hard to compile a year-end review of ELAW’s work in 2012. So, I challenged ELAW staff to pick at least one personal highlight from the past year to share with our readers.  Through these “staff picks” you can join us in celebrating victories from around the world, learn a little about what goes on behind-the-scenes at ELAW, and share in a few of the many moments that make ELAW so unique.

We couldn’t fit all of our picks into this week’s post. Check back next week for more!

From everyone at ELAW, we wish you and yours a wonderful 2013!

Michele Kuhnle
Donor Liaison


ELAW in Central America and a Ban on Mining in Goa, India

It is HARD to pick a favorite ELAW moment in 2012, as there were MANY – but it is fun to reflect on them!  My year started organizing a conference on Climate Change, Gender, and Poverty in El Salvador, where inspiring feminists and environmental leaders from  Central America shared strategies and affirmed our common goals:  to protect and respect this fragile planet and all of her inhabitants.  We left with hope, and determination and new friendships.

Also this year my colleagues in Belize and Guatemala forged community-based agreements to protect parts of the vibrant Mesoamerican Reef:  In Guatemala, this takes the form of fisheries recovery zones, where fishers have agreed not to fish, in order to restore the fishery.  In Ambergris Caye and the Placencia Lagoon in Belize, communities have defined marine reserves, where fishing and other activities will be restricted to protect vital ecosystems.  These initiatives represent people taking charge of their future, and bringing their governments along with them.

But my top pick for 2012 has to be this:  Listening to ELAW advocates Claude and Norma Alvares describe the moratorium on mining activities they and their colleagues achieved in the state of Goa, India.  The Supreme Court of India, with the help of our determined and inspiring partners, said ‘no more.’  I grew up in West Virginia, where “coal is king,” and the mining industry has torn the tops off the mountains that I once called home to get at the last of this dwindling, dead-end resource.  I tried to imagine what it would be like for the Supreme Court of the United States to shut down all mining activity in West Virginia, exercising the precautionary principle.  Like West Virginia, Goa is a relatively small state, but it holds 60% of India’s iron ore, which is in high demand for construction.  Shutting down the entire industry in the state is no small thing.  But if we want to leave a liveable planet for our children, the first step is to stop damage that is currently under way.

Lori Maddox
Associate Director

EIA Law Matrix (ELM)

elmOne of my highlights from 2012 was achieving a long-time goal of creating an electronic tool to evaluate and compare environmental impact assessment (EIA) laws around the world.   The EIA Law Matrix, known as “ELM,” has been a complete success!  ELM currently provides information about EIA laws from 43 countries.  Users can view key features of a country’s EIA law, easily compare EIA laws to see trends, and find specific excerpts of legislative provisions.

We are getting wonderful feedback from our partners who have been using ELM in their advocacy efforts.  ELM has not only benefited our partners, but has proven to be a valuable resource for our legal staff.  During the past year, we reviewed proposed amendments to EIA laws from a number of countries, including Pakistan, Mongolia, and Cambodia.   We were also called on to evaluate the EIA procedures and opportunities for public participation in the development of infrastructure projects in Brazil, Uganda, Peru, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.  ELM proved to be indispensable for these projects, enabling us to quickly pull up exemplary language from EIA laws and to highlight regional trends.

We are looking forward to expanding ELM in the coming year by adding information in Spanish and building our library of EIA laws!

Liz Mitchell
Staff Attorney

Bringing the World to Eugene

Host Family Program

Betty Smith (second from right) joins ELAW Fellows at Sahalie Falls.

My hands down highlight from 2012 was the ELAW Fellows Program.  We hosted grassroots advocates from Mongolia, Russia, Haiti, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Colombia, Mexico, Honduras, and Swaziland. Fellows collaborated with ELAW staff on everything from protecting watersheds on the Monglia/Russia border to strengthening civil society in Sub-Saharan Africa.  Every visitor gave his or her Fellowship a big thumbs up. The “ELAW House” was re-configured to include a bedroom/office suite for visitors and community members  enjoyed helping Fellows explore the Coast, Cascades, and other wild places in Oregon. Many thanks to everyone in the ELAW Host Family Program!

Maggie Keenan
Communications Director

Volunteer Power

From left to right: Eric, Zoe , Logan, Derek, Melia, Michael.

From left to right: Eric, Zoe , Logan, Derek, Melia, Michael.

As I reflect on 2012, the number one highlight for me was not an international legal victory of good triumphing over evil, right over wrong. Rather, this highlight has been quieter, subtler, locally based, and has stretched the course of the year. Throughout 2012, I have been endlessly grateful and humbled to witness the dedication of the more than 50 volunteers who contributed more than 1,800 hours of their combined time to ELAW. These individuals range in age from 15 to 50+ and have translated documents and websites into multiple languages; completed data entry projects; spread the word about ELAW at community events; hosted ELAW Fellows at their homes and brought them to see other parts of Oregon; designed logos, websites, brochures, and workshop materials, and much more.

Having the opportunity to work with these talented volunteers has made 2012 a year to remember. Our volunteers have brought new perspectives, skills, and expertise to ELAW and are a constant reminder that even in a digital age where so much of our communication takes place electronically, there is no substitute for a collective force of humanity coming together for common good. Some volunteers bring years of knowledge and experience as environmental and human rights advocates. Many are young and are well on their way to becoming leaders working toward a more just and sustainable global culture. If I had to pick one word to highlight 2012, it would be: GRATITUDE.

Melanie Giangreco
Office Manager

Victory in Mexico

With the astronomical price of gold, and the price of other metals near all-time highs, places around the world with even marginal grades of ore are imperiled.  Because the vast majority of mining projects involve stripping the land of all vegetation and creating vast open pits and mine waste disposal areas, any land that is mined is doomed to lose its natural characteristics for decades,  and perhaps centuries.  The lust for mining is a particular menace for land in developing countries that is home to the world’s biodiversity.

With this in mind, I am particularly happy about a victory at the end of 2012 – the withdrawal of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the Los Cardones gold mining project in south Baja California. Near the Sierra de la Laguna, the project would have ruined several hundred hectares of land bordering a UNESCO designated global biosphere reserve replete with xeric shrubs transitioning to pine-oak forests. While the company’s decision to withdraw the EIA is not necessarily a permanent end to this project, it provides hope to environmentalists that Mexico’s new Presidential Administration, which assumed office in December 2012, will irrevocably reject the Los Cardones project.

Congratulations to ELAW partners at  Defensa Ambiental del Noroeste (DAN) and Centro Mexicano de Derecho Ambiental (CEMDA) for this victory!

Mark Chernaik
Staff Scientist

Victories Years in the Making

Two of my favorite moments from 2012 have almost nothing to do with the past year.  In 2012, ELAW partners in Uganda and Chile shared great news on long-awaited decisions related to cases filed a decade ago! That is one of the challenges of using the law to protect the environment and human rights – justice sometimes takes time.  In both of these unusually lengthy cases, the result was worth the long wait.

In 2002, lawyers with Greenwatch in Uganda first asked ELAW for legal and scientific information to support a petition asking Ugandan courts to ban the use of polythene (micro-thin plastic) bags in Uganda.  In 2012, the High Court of Kampala finally agreed with our partners’ assertion that the use of the bags violates the right of citizens to live in a clean and healthy environment!  This case took ten years in part because the government attempted to issue a ban that would have negated the need for a judgement.  To learn more about this, read the Environment News Service article that tells more of the story.

Remains of an ancient alerce tree.          Photo: Carlos Poblete

Remains of an ancient alerce tree. Photo: Carlos Poblete

In 2003, Chilean lawyer Miguel Fredes began investigating the illegal logging and export of the Chilean Larch/Alerce (known as the “Chilean redwood tree”).  In 2005, a Chilean court agreed that the tree was being exported illegally with devastating effects for ancient forests in southern Chile.  Although illegal exports of Alerce were stopped as a result of the court decision many years ago, the people responsible were never held publicly accountable.  However, on September 11, 2012, we were pleased to hear from Miguel that the Supreme Court of Chile affirmed decisions from lower courts finding former Fresia right wing Mayor Nelson Schwerter, guilty of illegally trading an endangered tree species.

As we welcome the new year, I look forward to more wonderful news from our partners who are pursuing justice and protecting the rights of communities around the world!

Jen Gleason
Staff Attorney

ELAW works worldwide to protect communities and the environment, but what do we do to make a positive impact in our local community?

ELAW staff members with their bikes during the          Business Commute Challenge.

This week, ELAW is teaming up with more than 150 local businesses and organizations to participate in Eugene’s annual Business Commute Challenge. Many ELAW employees bike or ride the bus to work on a regular basis. By tracking the number of miles we commute by walking, biking, riding the bus, or carpooling this week, we can see the difference that ELAW employees are making. When combined with data from all challenge participants, we can see the collective impact of choosing alternative transportation options May 12th-18th.

Last year, Business Commute Challenge participants reduced single-passenger vehicle travel by nearly 93,000 miles, preventing 75,270 pounds of carbon dioxide from being emitted.

Collectively, participants also saved about $18,000 in gas money.

Make what difference you can in your community, because local actions have global impact.

Walk the talk, bike the talk.

Many thanks to everyone from Point 2 Point Solutions of Lane Transit District for making the Business Commute Challenge such a fun and successful event!

Melanie Giangreco
ELAW Office Manager

Thank you for your support and commitment to protecting communities and the environment around the world!

I recently returned from a great family trip that took me to Vancouver Island and five other British Columbia islands.  If you have not been to this part of the world, I urge you to get there.

It is magnificent country: Dozens of islands, many with small bays that warm up enough for a great afternoon ocean swim.  Diverse multitudes of birds, fish, and marine mammals.  Tremendous sailing, kayaking, and exploring beaches that look as if no human has ever touched them. Dozens of ferries to move you through and around the islands.  Clams, oysters, crabs and fish to gather and savor.  First Nations people who have lived in the region for eons and remain committed to wise management of natural resources.

Bern and his daughter Tatum kayaking Oak Bay, Vancouver Island

A highlight of our trip was connecting with great Canadian ELAW partners and other advocates who are working to protect and enhance this wild country.  Calvin Sandborn of the Environmental Law Centre at the University of Victoria, and attorneys Linda Nowlan and Mark Haddock of Vancouver all helped us plan our trip.  In Victoria, I met with Calvin and strong advocates Claire Hutton, who works with First Nations on initiatives related to improving ecological and human wellbeing; Jenny Brown, who works with The Nature Conservancy to protect BC’s natural treasures; and Carmen Gustafson, who works with Calvin at the Environmental Law Centre.  We traveled to Galiano Island, where we met Chris Tollefson, the Executive Director of the Environmental Law Centre.  We had a great time staying at Chris’ house on Galiano and learning how to gather and enjoy the edible treasures.  On Salt Spring Island, Calvin connected us with John Roe, who is revered for his successful crusade to clean up the Gorge, which was a toxic mess and is now a treasured, swimmable waterway abutting downtown Victoria.  John took us for a water-borne tour around Salt Spring and we could feel his passion for protecting the natural environment.  We were thrilled to learn that salmon now return to spawn in many streams on Salt Spring Island, while a few years ago the Island was barren of salmon!

I always enjoying getting out in the field with our partners and experiencing the natural treasures we all work to protect.  The late author Edward Abbey, who I enjoyed meeting many years ago, said it well:

“One final paragraph of advice: do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am — a reluctant enthusiast… a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much; I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk-bound men and women with their hearts in a safe deposit box, and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this; You will outlive the bastards.”

My family sends thanks to all those who work so hard to protect British Columbia, and thanks for your hospitality in sharing it with us!

Bern Johnson
Executive Director

That's me in 1992 (standing third from the right) at ELAW's first Annual Meeting.

I just passed a personal milestone: I started work at ELAW 20 years ago!

When I started as ELAW’s first Staff Attorney in June, 1991, ELAW was a small, start-up organization built on big ideas: We planned to use new, emerging technology to link grassroots environmental advocates around the world, so they could more effectively protect the environment through law.

The 20 years have flown by. Looking back, three things stand out:

1. It’s all about the people. ELAW links people across borders. These people come from different countries, speak different languages, practice different religions, and live in different ecosystems. Despite these differences, they are brought together because they share a determination to protect our planet and build a sustainable future. Working with such people—who believe they can make the world a better place—is a constant thrill. Our common interest in building a sustainable future is stronger than our differences.

2. In all corners of the planet, people want clean air, clean water, healthy ecosystems, and a sustainable future. Everywhere I travel for ELAW, I encounter people who see that we need to take better care of our planet; people who see beyond short term profits; and people who see there must be better, cleaner ways to do things. Meeting these people in all corners of the globe and seeing their courage and determination to build a better, greener future, is an inspiration.

3. I have been extraordinarily lucky–I get to work with great people all over the world to build a sustainable future. That has been more fun, challenging, and rewarding than I could have imagined 20 years ago! I look forward to many more good years!

Bern Johnson
ELAW Executive Director

My name is Eric Robinson, and I am an ELAW volunteer! I grew up here in Eugene, and now I’m a sophomore at Williams College in Williamstown, MA where I study Math and Psychology. Williams has a one-month January term after winter break and before spring semester when students relax with one class called Winter Study. Williams offers a huge variety of classes during Winter Study, and students are encouraged to take an enjoyable class outside of their major. Last Winter Study I stayed on campus, but was left with my fifth choice class, “ECON 15: Stock Market.” So, this year I planned ahead and got to spend my January interning at ELAW.

This past month I’ve helped with a variety of different projects around the ELAW office. I spent much of my time helping Staff Attorney Jen Gleason prepare for a trip to Haiti (where she is working with the  Haitian Environmental Law Association, AHDEN) by translating materials to French and assisting with research requests. Also, I’ve been working on translating pages from the ELAW website into French, updating ELAW’s scientific and legal resources, and updating the website with new translations, such as the Chinese ones that just went up.

Outside of ELAW it’s been a beautiful January in Eugene! It hasn’t rained too much, and there have been quite a few sunny days that lent themselves well to venturing around the city. I’ve spent most of my time hanging out with friends, hiking in the hills around Lane County, and enjoying everything Eugene has to offer, including all the incredible food (Williamstown has ~8,000 people and only a few restaurants).

I head back to Massachusetts on Wednesday the 26th to dive back into school, and it goes without saying that I’ll miss getting to spend time at ELAW and around Eugene. I’ll be back briefly in the summer for jury duty (my 3rd summons in two years!), but for most of the summer and next year I’ll be at the University of Geneva in Switzerland studying psychology.

I would like to say thank you to everyone at ELAW who made my internship possible, and thanks to everyone who helped make it an interesting and productive experience!

Eric Robinson
2011 ELAW Intern

Editor’s note: Eric has been enormously helpful, working independently and always with a positive attitude. He has provided ELAW with hours of solid, timely work. We are thrilled that he has found his experience interesting and beneficial. We wish him luck at Williams and hope that his experience in Geneva is rewarding. Thanks Eric – We will miss you too!

Michele Kuhnle, ELAW Donor Liaison

ELAW is thrilled to welcome Michele Kuhnle to the team!

Michele has joined ELAW as part of the development team.  She works with donors to ensure that their gifts help ELAW and our partners achieve lasting impact around the world.  She graduated from Mount Holyoke College with a B.A.  in Critical Social Thought, a self-designed interdisciplinary major that allowed her to combine courses in environmental studies, politics, and economics.  Prior to joining the ELAW team, Michele worked with the Western Environmental Law Center, at their headquarters in Eugene.

When she is not dedicating her time and energy to environmental protection, Michele enjoys yoga, pilates, and cooking. She is an avid reader and fan of mystery novels.

Welcome Michele!

Michael Zschiesche with his first steelhead

ELAW Fellows travel to Eugene to work with the ELAW U.S.  team, study English at the American English Institute, and gain skills and contacts that make them more effective advocates for communities and the environment.  They also get to enjoy Oregon!

One of the great benefits of hosting these Fellows is that all of us at ELAW U.S.  have fun introducing our visitors to the natural treasures of Oregon.  We have taken ELAW Fellows on their first trip to snow covered mountains in the Cascades and their first trip to the ocean — exploring tidepools bursting with life at the Oregon Coast.

Last week, I had the great pleasure of helping visiting German lawyer Michael Zschiesche catch his first steelhead!  We launched my drift boat on the Willamette River about 20 miles from Eugene and enjoyed a gorgeous float.  As the sun burned off the fog, we could see the vibrant fall colors lining the river.  We did not see another person as we floated down the Willamette.

The scenery alone would have made it a great trip, but it got a lot more exciting when Michael’s line suddenly went tight!  He was swinging a fly through a perfect pool when an 8 pound steelhead grabbed it.  Many people consider steelhead the finest freshwater game fish in the world, so Michael had his hands full.  Despite having almost no fishing experience, Michael brought the fish to the net.

Michael was thrilled to catch this trophy.  It was a hatchery fish, so we brought it home and his family enjoyed eating it–a memorable taste of Oregon’s natural bounty.  Michael said he will never forget that day–I won’t either!

Bern Johnson
ELAW Executive Director

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