Resource users’ lawyer encourages thinking ahead and working togetherWritten by Natasha Wheeler
Worland – The mission of the Western Resources Legal Center (WRLC), located in Portland, Ore., is to train a generation of legal advocates to appreciate the natural resource industry, to provide balance in legal education and to use legal cases and projects to teach law students how to help natural resource users.
“We teach, and we represent natural resource users,” stated WRLC Executive Director Caroline Lobdell at the Guardians of the Range annual meeting in Worland on Feb. 13.
Representation by WRLC is carried out pro bono, and cases that are accepted must meet certain criteria to provide effective education for the intended curriculum of the students.
“All resource users need to get along on the issues, and the issues must be good in the classroom,” she explained. “The attorney advisory committee makes sure that cases will truly advance all of the natural resource industry voice across the board.”
Heart of the issues
Positioned within Lewis and Clark Law School, WRLC is surrounded by groups with conflicting interests, including the Earthrise Law Center, who’s mission statement says, “Earthrise secures significant environmental victories by tenaciously pursuing litigation and using other legal tools to establish positive legal precedent.”
Lobdell believes that being in the heart of extremist environmental and animal rights territory is an advantage for her students because there are many opportunities to tackle issues and educate audiences.
“We are strategically placed at the Lewis and Clark Law School,” she said.
One of the issues that is beginning to gain momentum in the legal arena is the extent of protection that animals should be afforded by law. Cases range from animal welfare to animal rights, extending even as far as personhood.
“Generally speaking, animal law is any area of the law that relates to or impacts animals. Animal law developed through property law. We determined valuation and what we can or can’t do with a neighbor’s property,” Lobdell remarked.
In 1867, New York became the first state to adopt statutes expressly targeted against animal cruelty, and other states adopted similar legislation in the 1880s.
“The cruelty laws included unnecessary pain, needless death and traumatization, et cetera,” Lobdell noted.
She continued, “The definition of animal welfare now, put out by the Veterinary Medical Association, talks about human responsibility for all aspects of animal wellbeing, including housing, management, disease prevention and humane handling. I think we can all agree with this definition.”
Yet, current cases appearing in court are demanding more stringent definitions.
“We have animal welfare, meaning we can still use animals. Then we have animal rights, meaning they have certain rights. It’s beyond welfare,” she described. “Eventually personhood is going to start showing up. This is dividing the animal law world because they can’t all agree. Some people think we can still use animals but certain animals have certain rights, and other people say elephants are people.”
According to Lobdell, the reason these extreme animal rights and personhood cases are important is because they could set precedents that impact animal handling legislation.
“We have to get smart and use some of the environmental laws to protect our interests, and we also need to be smart and see how those same environmental laws are being used to project the animal agenda to our detriment,” she stated.
In the 1970s, many federally mandated environmental policies were put into place, and Lobdell sees similar trends arising in current animalist activities.
“With public relations campaigns, science, outsider buy-in and political pressure, the environmental law went for bipartisan, straight to the top. There was no problem because they had all of those factors in place,” she explained, adding that it’s too early to tell if the current animal law movement is as well prepared.
“Areas that we can expect to see change include the evolution in standing, the change in valuation of animals from economic to companionship value and increased prosecution under some of these state laws as well as the environmental laws,” she continued.
She warned producers that one negative event, with the right media attention, can have a big impact on public support of certain laws.
“As an industry, we have to think about these things ahead of time,” Lobdell remarked.
She suggested educating the public about the positive aspects of resource management and animal husbandry, as well as playing the offense in the courtroom and going for good, clean wins.
For example, Lobdell outlined a case where the Animal Legal Defense Fund named a chimpanzee as the plaintiff in the case. But, the judge ultimately stated that the animal itself did not have personhood.
“The ruling said a person has the right to view animals in a certain way, not that the animal had specific rights,” she noted, explaining that the damages of the case were listed as aesthetic injury.
“I tell natural resource users to take a good clean win and build the next case. I tell them to then take that clean win that’s been multiplied and build on it and charge with it,” she said.
Coming together as an industry, thinking about things ahead of time and working collaboratively, Lobdell suggested, are actions that resource users should be taking.