How Your Voice Can Make a Difference | Conservation Law Foundation

How Your Voice Can Make a Difference

CLF members helped us win our right whale lawsuit

Ashira Morris | @ashiramorris

When a rare North Atlantic right whale swam up to Nahant’s shores in April of 2017, Viola Patek joined her neighbors on the beach to observe the massive creature. Nahant is essentially an island, connected to the mainland by a narrow isthmus. “It almost tipped over when everyone ran to see the whale,” Patek, who goes by Vi, remembered. Even surrounded by others, the experience was deeply emotional and personal for her. She was determined to do whatever she could to save the endangered right whale from extinction.

Vi was already involved with oceans advocacy as the president of Nahant Safer Waters in Massachusetts (S.W.I.M.), a local environmental organization. Soon after her encounter with the whale, Vi took her engagement a step farther: she joined CLF’s lawsuit against the federal government for failing to protect our endangered right whales.

The lawsuit, which we won this fall, ultimately required removal of certain dangerous fishing gear from waters south of Nantucket until the required analysis is done. This victory wouldn’t have been possible without CLF members like Vi. To bring cases against the federal government, CLF needs to prove standing — an essential legal standard. One of the criteria we must show is that CLF members will be harmed by the actions of the entity or agency we’re suing.

Simply put, CLF could not do our work in court without our members. Without standing, we can’t do our job of using the law to fight for New England’s future.

CLF members – like you – are key to our cases

When our attorneys put this federal court case together, they needed strong member voices like Vi’s to speak up. To protect an endangered species like right whales, it’s not enough for CLF to prove that they will be harmed by the government’s proposed activity. (In this case, allowing gillnet fishing in waters where the whales increasingly congregate to feed and socialize.) We also need to show that CLF members will be harmed, either economically, emotionally, or professionally, by this action. Members with a strong interest in right whales gave CLF the standing the law required and the ability to argue this case in court.

Vi was one of four CLF members who provided sworn affidavits for our case. She was motivated by the harm – personal, professional, and emotional – further danger right whales would cause her.

“I felt upset and hurt that my children and grandchildren would lose something by losing these beautiful rare creatures,” Vi said. In her testimony, she described that momentous April day when the right whale visited Nahant, not as a puff in the distance, but close to shore. She remembered how she and her grandchildren watched it for hours, how they heard it breathing.

“The increased endangerment or extinction of North Atlantic right whales causes me tremendous dread and heartache,” she wrote in her testimony.

Powerful testimony acknowledged by judge

Vi’s written testimony strongly supported our claim that the federal government would cause harm if it opened up waters south of Nantucket to gillnet fishing for the first time in decades without the required analysis. This violation of the Endangered Species Act put right whales at increased risk of entanglement, one of the biggest threats to the species’ survival.

Vi’s prose, along with the other three affidavits from CLF members, was a key part of our victory in court. They were so powerful that they were cited by the judge in his ruling when he found that “CLF has standing in spades.”

“It was amazing to see my testimony quoted by the judge,” she said. “I just about fell out of my chair. He focused on how I would have felt hurt by damage to these whales.”

Join us in our fight for New England’s environment

“It’s interesting that a person like myself being upset matters in the eyes of the law,” Vi reflected. While Vi may have been surprised by how much her voice mattered, we were not. As a member, you aren’t just a supporter of CLF – you’re essential to our ability to go to court and defend, enforce, and enact important environmental protections.

For Vi, who has been a CLF member for five years, being a part of the lawsuit gave her a way to act on her beliefs.

“My family and I have a life attitude that you stand up for what you believe is right,” she said. “You can moan, groan, whine, complain, but it doesn’t make sense to not stand up for what you believe.”

We couldn’t agree more. We’re proud to work with supporters like Vi – and you – to raise our voices together. And we’re grateful for every member who is part of our fight for a healthy, thriving New England for all.

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