Legal Rights Recognized for Rivers in Florida and Quebec
An Environmental Article from

FROM Nicole Pallotta, Senior Policy Program Manager, ALDF Animal Legal Defense Fund
March 2021

Summary: The global “rights of nature” movement — which seeks to secure legal rights, including standing, for features of the environment like rivers, forests, and ecosystems — continues to advance with two significant developments in North America.


In February 2021 — in a first for Canada — the Magpie River in Quebec was granted legal personhood via parallel resolutions adopted by a local municipality and a First Nation band.

And in November 2020, voters in Orange County, Florida, approved a charter amendment granting legal rights to all waterways, including two rivers, in the county. With Florida’s ordinance, which passed with 89% of the vote, Orange County became the most populous jurisdiction in the U.S. to adopt legislation recognizing rights of nature. 1

The Whanganui River in New Zealand was the first river in the world to be granted legal personhood in 2017. Since then, similar efforts have been increasing around the world. 2

polluted river

The Rights of Nature Movement

Besides New Zealand, efforts to formally recognize rights of nature have been successful in countries like Bolivia, India, Ecuador, and increasingly, the U.S. In 2019, the Klamath River in northern California was granted legal personhood by a Native American tribe, making it the first U.S. river to receive this status. Though it was overturned by a federal judge in 2020, the Lake Erie Bill of Rights — approved by voters in Toledo, Ohio in 2019 — was the first law in the U.S. to give rights to a specific ecosystem....



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