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One-man Ban: Pennsylvania Farmer Fights for His Land

November 13, 2012

Stephen Cleghorn becomes first landowner in U.S. to use Conservation Easement recognizing “Rights of Nature” to ban fracking

Contact: J. Stephen Cleghorn, PhD

(814) 568-1207

Paradise Gardens and Farm website

AngerandCourage blog

What: Press Conference announcing Conservation Easement to Ban Fracking 

When: Wednesday, November 14th at 1:00 pm

Where: 2771 Paradise Road, Reynoldsville, PA 15851

Who: Organic farmer Stephen Cleghorn and representatives of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund will give a presentation and be available for interview.

Goats play “queen of the hill” at Stephen Cleghorn’s Paradise Gardens and Farm in April 2012. Photo: Iris Marie Bloom

“It’s not really my property,” Cleghorn affirms. “Nature had it first.”

Paradise Community, Henderson Township, Jefferson County, PA, November 14, 2012 – J. Stephen Cleghorn, PhD, a Pennsylvania organic farmer, has become the first landowner in the United States to use a conservation easement to recognize and protect the rights of water, forest, and wild ecosystems.

The easement then bans activities, like shale gas hydro-fracking, which would violate those rights, and elevates the rights of nature above the power claimed by extractive energy corporations to despoil the environment.

Cleghorn is the owner of Paradise Gardens and Farm, a fifty-acre organic farm that sits above the Marcellus Shale formation in Henderson Township, Jefferson County, Pennsylvania.

Cleghorn established the easement in memory of his late wife, Dr. Lucinda Hart-González who died of lung cancer on November 14, 2011. In a ceremony held on  May 10th of this year, attended by scores of supporters, Cleghorn scattered his wife’s ashes and declared Paradise Gardens and Farm forever inviolate and off-limits to shale gas fracking.

Over the last six months, Cleghorn has worked with the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), a nonprofit, Pennsylvania-based law firm, to create an easement which secures the Rights of Nature legally on this property. The Legal Defense Fund has assisted over three dozen municipal governments in eight states to create local laws that recognize the Rights of Nature, and assisted in the drafting of the declaration of rights in the new Ecuadorian Constitution, through which Ecuador became the first country in the world to recognize the Rights of Nature.

Preserving and Protecting

Although warned by his lawyer that the easement might reduce his property’s value, Cleghorn states: “It’s not really my property. Nature had it first. Human laws that carve it up into market commodities that can be traded and sold matter less to me than the first rights of Nature. Besides, a recent study showed that shale gas drilling reduces the property value by 24% when that property depends on private water wells as mine does. For me this easement preserves this land for organic farming and protects it from an extreme form of fossil fuel extraction. I know plenty of potential buyers who would go along with those conditions. In the long run as we try to save this planet from us, I think I’ll be just fine on property value.”

Thomas Linzey, the Executive Director of CELDF, applauded Cleghorn’s actions, stating that “the time has come for the corporate ’right’ to destroy the earth be subordinated to the rights of our communities and nature. Stephen’s actions, in honor of his late wife, represent an expansion of the resistance against gas corporations in the State.”

Both Cleghorn and Linzey called on other landowners across the state, in addition to municipal governments, to take action to recognize the rights of communities and nature through both easements and local laws. A new Pennsylvania-based organization, the Terra Conservancy, is being established by CELDF to receive and enforce rights of nature easements.

Stephen Cleghorn may be emailed: jstephencleghorn@yahoo.com

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11 Comments
  1. November 13, 2012 10:02 pm

    Awesome! So inspirational and empowering! Hopefully Stephen is the first of many.

  2. November 13, 2012 11:57 pm

    Thank you, Iris. Just got back from a meeting in Middlesex Township, Butler County, calling for a moratorium of shale gas drilling. Very well attended. Much enthusiasm for stopping the fracking. Encouraging!

  3. Rita Varley permalink
    November 14, 2012 3:16 pm

    Stephen Cleghorn– I worry that even if you succeed in protecting your land from frackers, that the frackers will contaminate nearby land so severely that your land will suffer damages anyway. I hope and pray that your efforts will be fully successful and set a dramatic precedent for other organic farmers to follow you. The more I hear about fracking the more clear I feel that we need to ban fracking entirely, anywhere in PA.

    • January 15, 2013 10:03 am

      The way the easement reads, it reaches into the deep biosphere (since Nature owns that, too, and thus any attempt to drill under my farm or even at its edges to frack shale that lies under my farm could be contested in court.

  4. November 19, 2012 11:40 am

    A wonderful action taken by Stephen and supported by CELDF!!! However, I really don’t see the point of a proviso allowing extraction of any minerals in any manner, as so mentioned in the easement!!! Loophole, loophole, loophole…

    • January 12, 2013 9:20 am

      Thank you, Rebecca, I trusted some of the legalese of this document to CELDF, so if you could tell me what you see as a loophole I can run it past them. The agreement can be amended if necessary. Look forward to hearing from you.

      • January 15, 2013 10:12 am

        Rebecca – is this the passage you see as a loophole? “A qualified mineral interest in the Property exists, and it is the intent of the Owner and Holders that the provisions of this Grant apply to the extraction of that mineral interest, requiring any mineral extraction to abide by the provisions of this Grant, and that the extraction is to be exercised only in a manner that does not violate the Rights of Nature as present within and manifested by the ecosystems and natural communities existing on the Property, or those that are dependent upon the Property. Any extraction of mineral interests that cannot be carried out without violating the rights of Nature is prohibited as constituting a de facto and de jure violation of this easement.” If so, this clause is in there specifically to deal with the fact that there is a separate deed for the gas and oil (aka “mineral”) rights on the subsurface of this property and this passage essentially says that the deed is no good if the owner of the deed must violate the terms of this easement (i.e., violate Nature), which of course we would argue in court that they would necessarily violate Nature by the fracking activity.

  5. phyllis carr permalink
    January 9, 2013 8:19 pm

    thank you farmer i wish many more would be so brave. iam sorry to hear about your wife. we all our in this fight together and it is not easy but if god is for us who can be againest us.

    • January 12, 2013 9:26 am

      Thank you, Phyliis. I appreciate your kind comments. Are you still experiencing the air pollution problem from the compressor station? Has the air testing you did with Calvin’s help made any difference?

Trackbacks

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