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Climate Change Activists Push On With Lawsuit Claiming Constitutional 'Right To Wilderness'

<p>Beyond the borders of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness are as much as 200,000 acres of undeveloped forest.</p>

Ian McCluskey

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Beyond the borders of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness are as much as 200,000 acres of undeveloped forest.

Animal and environmental activists are filing an appeal after a Portland-based judge dismissed their case against the U.S. government, which claims the government has violated the groups' constitutional rights to a safe and sustainable environment.

U.S. District Judge Michael McShane dismissed the Animal Legal Defense Fund and Seeding Sovereignty’s lawsuit last month after the groups failed to make the case that the Constitution guarantees a "right to wilderness."

According to Animal Legal Defense Fund’s Carter Dillard, the "right to wilderness" comes from several constitutional amendments as a right to privacy, liberty and what he called the right to be let alone.

“We think they have a constitutional obligation to do so, and we think they should do so using wilderness or the non-human world or a biodiverse world as the standard,” Dillard said.

The lawsuit calls for the government to make federal policy changes that will combat climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Climate change is altering the planet and wild places in myriad ways: The loss of mountain glaciers means the streams and rivers that depend on them have less water in the summer and fall. Winter rain storms are becoming more intensive. And forests are more susceptible to mega-fires during periods of prolonged drought.

Scientists warn that climate change is precipitating a global mass extinction event — the sixth in the Earth’s 3.5 billion-year history. Scientists estimate that we are now losing species at 1,000 to 10,000 times the normal rate, with multiple extinctions daily, a rate of loss not seen in more than 60 million years.

“In this time of climate crisis, wild places offer a solution to our warming planet and for that alone, our wild lands are essential to safeguard,” Seeding Sovereignty executive director Janet MacGillivray said.

“For future generations of all life, human and nonhuman relatives, and in this climate emergency, we are obligated to stand in protection for a right to wilderness.”

Copyright 2019 Oregon Public Broadcasting

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Monica Samayoa is a reporter with OPB’s Science & Environment unit. Before OPB, Monica was an on-call general assignment reporter at KQED in San Francisco. She also helped produce The California Report and KQED Newsroom. Monica holds a bachelor's degree in Broadcast and Electronic Communication Arts from San Francisco State University.