Road widening at Vilcabamba River and recognition of rights of nature, Ecuador

A 2011 ruling by a provincial court in Ecuador recognizing the Vilcabamba River's rights were violated by road construction became the first legal ruling in favour of Rights of Nature in the world.


On March 30th, 2011 Eleanor Geer Huddle and Richard Frederick Wheeler were granted the first Constitutional injunction in favor of nature in Ecuador, under Article 71 of the Ecuadorian Constitution (1). This decision came as the result of an appeal of a 2010 ruling by the Interim Judge of the Third Civil Court of Loja in which the case was dismissed for lack of legal standing. However, as of two years later the ruling still lacked full implementation. (4)

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Basic Data
NameRoad widening at Vilcabamba River and recognition of rights of nature, Ecuador
ProvinceProvincia de Loja
SiteBarrio de Santorum sector
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Infrastructure and Built Environment
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Water access rights and entitlements
Transport infrastructure networks (roads, railways, hydroways, canals and pipelines)
Tourism facilities (ski resorts, hotels, marinas)
Building materials extraction (quarries, sand, gravel)
Specific CommoditiesWater
Tourism services
Sand, gravel
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsNote that the size of the project (0.5 hectares) refers to the area of land damaged by flooding as referenced in the official court sentence (6), as the exact area of the road construction project has not been found.

The level of investment refers to the amount of money that Richard Wheeler and Eleanor Huddle had invested in restoring and protecting their land after the flooding in 2010, as of 2011.

The affected population refers to Wheeler and Huddle (2) plus an estimate of the total rural population (those that would be more affected by both a rural road construction and river flooding) in the cantón of Loja, province of Loja, where the road construction and flooding took place (based on 2001 census) (10).


2008: Ecuador becomes the first country in the world to recognize Rights of Nature (Pachamama) in their new constitution

2008: Wheeler and Huddle first notice that construction on the Vilcabamba-Quinara road is pushing rocks and materials into the Vilcabamba River

2010: The Vilcabamba River floods, causing significant damage to the Wheeler-Huddle property and downstream properties

2010: Interim Judge of the Third Civil Court of Loja dismisses Wheeler and Huddles case calling for application of Rights of Nature to the Vilcabamba River for lack of legal standing.

2011: After an appeal to the Provincial Court of Justice of Loja, the provincial court rules in the plaintiffs favour
Project Area (in hectares)0.5
Level of Investment (in USD)43,000
Type of PopulationRural
Potential Affected Population2-56,545
Start Date01/01/2008
Relevant government actorsProvincial Government of Loja

Ecuadorian Government
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersGlobal Alliance for the Rights of Nature (

Fundación Pachamama (dissolved)

Ecuadorian Coordinator for the Defense of Nature and the Environment (CEDENMA ) (

Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF)

The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)LOW (some local organising)
When did the mobilization beginIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups MobilizingInternational ejos
Forms of MobilizationInvolvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Objections to the EIA
Arguments for the rights of mother nature
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil erosion
Potential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Noise pollution, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Health ImpactsPotential: Other Health impacts
Otherpossible health impacts related to loss of agricultural land or resources for downstream families
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Other socio-economic impacts, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Displacement, Loss of livelihood
Otherloss of valuable land for eco-tourism project

possible loss of livelihood or displacement for downstream families affected by flooding
Project StatusStopped
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseEnvironmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
New legislation
Under negotiation
Application of existing regulations
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Project temporarily suspended
Do you consider this as a success?Not Sure
Why? Explain briefly.While the road construction was stopped, the damage to the river has never been fully repaired. Furthermore, the concept of 'environmental justice' is complicated here, as the plaintiffs were two white, wealthy foreigners who were already altering the natural environment through construction of an ecotourism center, while the road construction may have benefited rural, lower-income families.
Sources and Materials

7. RoN in ecuadorian constitution articles 71-74
[click to view]

6. full text of sentence
[click to view]


2. Homogenizing Community, Homogenizing Nature: An Analysis of Conflicting Rights in the Rights of Nature Debate (academic article by Laurel Fish, Stanford University)
[click to view]


3. Global Alliance for Rights of Nature update on case 1 year after ruling
[click to view]

1. Global Alliance for Rights of Nature article on case
[click to view]

8. Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund page on Rights of Nature
[click to view]

9. Eleanor Huddle's account of the case
[click to view]

10. 2001 Loja census
[click to view]

5. Global Alliance for Rights of Nature article on case in spanish (articulo sobre el caso en español)
[click to view]

Media Links

4. CBC article/David Suzuki documentary about case
[click to view]

Other Documents

Rights of Nature Vilcabamba River 3 Rights of Nature Vilcabamba River (9)
[click to view]

Rights of Nature Vilcabamba River 4 Vilcabamba River floods
[click to view]

Rights of Nature Vilcabamba River 1 Vilcabamba River floods due to road construction (9)
[click to view]

Rights of Nature Vilcabamba River 2 Vilcabamba-Quinara road construction (9)
[click to view]

Meta Information
Last update30/01/2018