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Remains of an ancient alerce tree.          Photo: Carlos Poblete

Last week, the Supreme Court of Chile affirmed decisions from lower courts finding a former Mayor of a southern Chilean town guilty of illegally trading an endangered tree species.  More than a decade after ELAW partner Miguel Fredes of Chile set out to prove the “Chilean redwood tree” – the Chilean Larch (known as Alerce in Spanish) – was being illegally trafficked, the Supreme Court of Chile handed down the final verdict.

In December 2005, ELAW reported that Fredes had scored a major victory against a multi-million dollar illegal logging racket that was devastating ancient forests in southern Chile.  Seven years later, we are thrilled to report that the Chilean Supreme Court has affirmed this important victory.

The Santiago Times reported that Schwerter, the former mayor of a southern Chilean town was found guilty of “building an illegal network of loggers and squatters who stole much of the Alerce they trafficked from Forestal Sarao company property. Forestal Sarao is one of Chile’s several privately owned natural reserves, established in 1988 to protect Alerce.”

ELAW lawyers helped Fredes obtain the evidence he needed to prove his cases.  ELAW Board Chair Cheryl Coon first started working with ELAW as a volunteer helping with this case ten years ago!

Congratulations, Miguel!

Jen Gleason
Staff Attorney

Liz in the pumpkin patch

For those of us in the northern climes, it’s the time of year to start planning the summer vegetable garden.  As I hold seeds in my hand and prepare to put them in the dirt I always marvel that in a matter of weeks and months, a small pile of oddly shaped and sized seeds will become a beautiful and nourishing crop of food.  When I was a kid, my passion was growing pumpkins.  Now, I enjoy finding new varieties of frilly kale, fragrant sweet peas, and fingerling potatoes to grow in the garden.  In the fall I will collect seeds from favorite plants to use the following year and hope that a few strays that get left behind will make it through the winter to come up in the spring.

This seems like such a simple act, yet the practice of planting and saving seeds on a larger scale has become a source of controversy as conventional and organic seeds for significant crops, like canola and soybeans, are slowly being replaced with genetically-modified seed — much of it developed for chemical herbicide resistance.  Farmers who harvest and save seed that has been unwittingly contaminated through pollination or drift run the risk of being sued by agrochemical companies for patent violations.  Respected experts, like the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), warn that contamination of conventional seed supplies with DNA from genetically-engineered seeds threatens global food security.

Thankfully, there is a growing movement to preserve generations of seed-saving heritage.  Here in the U.S., a large coalition of farmers, seed companies, and organic farming advocates recently filed a case challenging the validity of seed patents held by Monsanto and are seeking a court order that would protect farmers from being accused of patent infringement if their crops become contaminated with genetically-modified seed.

Many of ELAW’s partners are on the leading edge of efforts to preserve the genetic diversity of our food crops and ensure that our agricultural systems can adapt to climate change.

For example, Leo Saldanha and Bhargavi Rao, and their organization Environmental Support Group (ESG) India, are closely following efforts to introduce genetically-modified food crops to India.  Last year, ESG was instrumental in overturning the government of India’s decision to green light the introduction of genetically-modified eggplant (brinjal) seed.  ESG continues its work to protect India’s rich culture of seed-sharing and local agricultural knowledge.

Attorney Miguel Fredes is challenging the secrecy and lack of transparency around the testing and introduction of genetically-modified organisms in his home country of Chile.  The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is considering a petition that Miguel filed, seeking a declaration that citizens have a right to know whether genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) are being released into the environment and whether their food supply contains GMOs.  Miguel and the GMO Transparency Project plan to ask the Inter-American Commission to hold a thematic hearing on the issue this summer.

As we tend to our own small garden plots, we are collectively supporting an important global effort to protect seed diversity.  Make sure to celebrate the seed as you rip open packets and smooth the dirt over your garden rows.  And…don’t forget to water!

Liz Mitchell
ELAW Staff Attorney

ELAW partners summit Mt. Pisgah last spring

Every year, many of our partners travel for hours and hours on planes, trains and automobiles to reach the Eugene office just in time for the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference.  This year, we have visitors from six countries on five different continents who will be speaking at the PIELC!

Rizwana Hasan of Bangladesh is a keynote speaker at the PIELC (Sunday at noon). Rizwana is a 2009 Goldman Prize winner for her work challenging human rights and environmental abuses in the shipbreaking business in her home country of Bangladesh.  She was also a 2009 Time Magazine “Hero of the Environment.”  You can read more about her on the PIELC website.

Agnes Gajdics has been in Eugene since January, studying English at the American English Institute at the University of Oregon — and blogging about her experiences!  She will speak at the PIELC on Friday afternoon on a panel entitled “Giving the Public a Voice:  Procedural Environmental Rights.”  Joining her on that panel is Merab Barbakadze, who just missed a Lufthansa pilot’s strike to make it to Eugene.  He is an environmental attorney in the Republic of Georgia.

Calvin Sandborn will take the train to Eugene, arriving Thursday afternoon (if Amtrak is on time!). He is the Legal Director of the Environmental Law Center at the University of Victoria in Canada.  He will be speaking Friday afternoon on the topic of “Collaborative Partnerships for Livable and Sustainable Communities.”

Francis Colee works with Green Advocates in Liberia helping to amplify local voices as they speak out about environmental issues, especially those involving mining and forestry.  He is working to ensure that Liberia creates and maintains sustainable practices as those industries develop.

Kwesi Intsiful is a public interest environmental lawyer in Ghana.  He works with ELAW partners at The Centre for Public Interest Law (CEPIL) in Accra on environmental and forestry issues.

Kwesi and Francis will speak on a panel at the PIELC on Saturday morning entitled “Liberia, Ghana and the U.S.: Collaborating for a Clean Environment.”  ELAW Staff Scientist Mark Chernaik will be the moderator for this panel.

And, attending from the fifth continent, is Andrés Pirazzoli, a partner from Chile who worked with ELAW as an extern during his LL.M. program at the University of Oregon.  Andres will also speak on Saturday morning, discussing “The Energy Trilemma:  Environment, Costs and Reliability,” a panel that will be moderated by ELAW Staff Attorney Jen Gleason.

ELAW Staff member Rita Radostitz will moderate and speak on a panel Saturday morning with Kelly Matheson of Witness.org and Kelli Mathews of Verve Northwest.  The panel will address “Communications that Move People to Act (or Give).”

We are thrilled to welcome these ELAW partners to Eugene and look forward to hearing them speak.  The entire schedule, including exact times and locations, is available on the PIELC website.  We hope to see you there!

ELAW partners are celebrating 10 years of good work protecting local communities and ecosystems – from the Atacama Desert to the wild rivers of Patagonia. ELAW has collaborated with Fiscalia del Medio Ambiente’s (FIMA) fearless founder, Fernando Dougnac, since 1994 — four years before he launched FIMA. Fernando and FIMA staff member Andres Pirazzoli attended this year’s ELAW Annual Meeting.

You can also read about our work with Andres to protect Patagonia from a Spanish company`s plans to dam three wild rivers for a hydroelectric scheme.
by Maggie Keenan, ELAW Communications Director

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