In December 2021, Ecuador's Constitutional Court decided in favour of protection for the Los Cedros Biological Reserve - a spectacular tropical cloud forest in the country's Chocó biodiversity region, of which only remnants are left.
Seven of nine judges voted to revoke the environmental license of mining companies Cornerstone Capital Resources and ENAMI, forcing them to cease operations within the reserve.
The Rainforest Information Centre founded Los Cedros in 1989, and ever since has supported manager Josef de Coux and a diverse local and international team of staff, volunteers and scientists to keep this irreplaceable forest and its myriad species safe from logging, poaching ... and now mining.
Why Los Cedros is called "cloud" forest! Photo: Liz Downes
What does the Los Cedros win mean?
The Constitutional Court ruling sets a world first precedent for forests under threat of major extractive industries. It upholds Ecuador's unique Rights of Nature constitutional laws, as well as protecting four major waterways and the rights of local communities to a clean and safe environment.
Here's from The Guardian:
"Ecuador’s highest court has ruled that plans to mine for copper and gold in a protected cloud forest are unconstitutional and violate the rights of nature.
In a landmark ruling, the constitutional court of Ecuador decided that mining permits issued in Los Cedros, a protected area in the north-west of the country, would harm the biodiversity of the forest, which is home to spectacled bears, endangered frogs, dozens of rare orchid species and the brown-headed spider monkey, one of the world’s rarest primates."
Team at Los Cedros with international visitors and Constitutional Court judges, October 2022
The win would not have been possible without the hundreds of supporters who donated to help Rainforest Information Centre cover most of the legal fees for the case.
It would also not have been possible without the diverse and energetic international team of advocates and scientists, driven by RIC's active volunteer campaigners at Melbourne Rainforest Action Group (MRAG).
Internationally, the win has inspired efforts in other countries to discuss how Rights of Nature laws could be applied in struggles to protect ecosystems from harm by industrial expansion.
Meanwhile, within Ecuador, mining threats continue to grow, with transnational companies aggressively exploring two million hectares of vulnerable ecosystems and Indigenous lands. The government is pushing this agenda despite widening opposition from communities who do not agree to mining on their lands.
As of 2022-23, at least four communities have launched or are writing cases based on the constitutional rights enshrined by the Los Cedros precedent. RIC and MRAG are committed to supporting these communities to succeed.
Mural painted by community anti-mining groups opposite the Constitutional Court of Ecuador, 2021, during the proceedings of the Los Cedros case
Visit of Constitutional Court judges to the reserve
In October 2022, Los Cedros hosted two of the judges who decided in favour of the Rights of Nature at the Court – Agustín Grijalva (who presided over the writing of the ruling) and Ramiro Avila. These amazing humans had a great time at the reserve, along with a diverse group of local and international supporters.
As well as fun, important meetings were had, in order to strategise the best way forward for Los Cedros. In Ecuador, there is still a large gap between the “ideals” of constitutional rights and their legislative and practical application.
Over 2023 the judges will work closely with the reserve's management team to amplify the national and international precedents set by the ruling, support local communities, and ensure that government agencies and mining companies stick to their legal obligations.
Judges Agusrín Grijalva and Ramiro Avila enjoying the waterfall
Getting ready for business
Visitor numbers to Los Cedros were profoundly impacted through 2020-21 during the triple blow of the pandemic, civil unrest in Ecuador, and the mining threats.
The scientific station and infrastructure are currently undergoing essential maintenance works, to enable the reserve to get back to hosting tourists, students, scientific expeditions and community projects, as it has done for nearly 40 years. This is part of the management plan guided by the Rights of Nature ruling.
RIC crowdfunded $15,000 for these works, including a new footbridge being built across the Los Cedros river - with hard, rot resistant timber that should last another 30 years at least.
Los Cedros Rainfrog (Pristimantis cedros), a species only found in the reserve and nearby Manduriacu River. Photo: Morley Read
Why is Los Cedros so special?
This protected forest is one of the most biologically diverse habitats on earth. It consists of more than 5,000 hectares (nearly 13,000 acres) of primary cloud forest, and it safeguards the headwaters of four important watersheds.
Los Cedros protects at least 206 species with high extinction risk, five of which are regarded as critically endangered by the Ecuadorian government. These include the black and chestnut eagle, the brown-headed spider monkey and the Northwestern Andes jaguar.
In this 5-minute video John Seed, founder of the Rainforest Information Centre, explains what is special about Los Cedros and why we've fought so hard to protect it.
Visit the Los Cedros webpage to learn more about the reserve's history, contact details and how to visit.
Visit our campaign website to learn about the incredible natural history of the reserve, including taxonomy lists and photos of birds, reptiles, amphibians and insects.
Letter from world scientists attesting to the biological value of Los Cedros
Mantled howler monkey - an endangered species within the reserve.
Below are links to a selection of research publications by scientists who work or have worked in the reserve, and were deeply involved in the legal fight to save it.
Media about the Los Cedros court case, the win, and its significance
Rights of Nature in Ecuador by Rebekah Hayden, The Ecologist, 2020
Ecuador's High Court Affirms Constitutional Protections for the Rights of Nature in a Landmark Decision by Katie Surma, Inside Climate News, 2021
More on the Rights of Nature in Ecuador and worldwide
Our history of involvement with Los Cedros
The Rainforest Information Centre helped establish Los Cedros in 1989 with funds from the Australian Government's foreign aid program of the day.
RIC was part of the formation team led by Josef de Coux (who still manages the Scientific Station today), and many volunteers stayed, lived and worked at the reserve through the 1990s.
Los Cedros was declared a bosque protector (protected forest) by the Ecuadorian Government in 1994. However, despite this, the reserve has faced constant threats from logging, poaching and most recently mining.
Does Los Cedros still need your help?
The answer is YES!!
The permanent protection of the reserve is still a work in progress.
The court win was a monumental precedent, but the Ecuadorian State's application of the ruling has raised some challenges.
The reserve's management team has been required to re-form in consultation with, and inclusion of, local community members. The main issue with this is that the mining companies who own the concessions over the reserve have done a great job of dividing and conquering people. 40 well paying jobs were offered, which disappeared when the companies lost their license to operate within Los Cedros. Many people are yet to be convinced that access to clean drinking water and sustainable local economic practices would be more beneficial to them in the long term than the destruction caused by mining.
The new management team is also required to work with Ecuador's Ministry of Environment, who have been active in pushing a pro-mining agenda across the country.
Things are progressing well on these fronts, but the consultations and legal processes involved are expensive. Los Cedros is starting to get increased visitor numbers after a devastating slump due to the pandemic and the mining struggles. Additionally, there are some regular funds coming in from our partner organisation, Rainforest Concern.
But this income is not yet enough for the long-term financial sustainability of the reserve.
If you would like to support Los Cedros, please do so through our Ecuador Endangered crowdfund
or by direct donation to RIC.
Andean spectacled bear caught on trail camera at Los Cedros. Image provided by Josef de Coux.