New Legal Perspectives:
The Synergy of Law and Science to
Protect the Rights of Nature

Biographies & Abstracts

Panel One

Angie Vega

MSU Animal Law Fellow


Angie Vega is an attorney with a degree from Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, California, and a certified conciliator in Colombia, where she is originally from. Angie has an LL.M. in the American Legal System from Michigan State University and is the current MSU Animal Law Fellow. Her legal research focuses on companion animal damages, animal law in Latin America, Animal Rights, and the Rights of Nature. Angie has published law review articles on bullfighting and recovery of damages in companion animal cases. She is also a contributing editor of the Latin American materials of the Animal Legal and Historical Center, where she has also written articles on various topics, including legal damages, veterinary malpractice, and the status of animal law in many countries within Latin America.

Abstract: Rights of Nature: Bridging the gap with law to protect the environment

While environmental law was initially conceived to promote the sustainable use of the planet to mitigate environmental damage, it has struggled to curb rising temperatures, species extinction, and deforestation driven by economic interests. The Rights of Nature is a novel concept gaining momentum around the world. It comes to life as a new legal strategy to halt further environmental damage by protecting nature based on its intrinsic value and by reevaluating the relationship between humans and the environment. This presentation dives into initial complex questions surrounding critical issues such as the legal definition of nature, practical implementation, and the limits and triggers of these rights, all of which must be addressed in order for the movement to succeed.

Phoebe Lehmann Zarnetske

Associate Professor of spatial and community ecology in the Department of Integrative Biology at Michigan State University (MSU) and is Director of the Institute for Biodiversity, Ecology, Evolution, and Macrosystems (IBEEM)


Dr. Zarnetske’s research integrates insights from climate change experiments in grassland and freshwater systems with macrosystems science and modeling of publicly available data on a variety of plants and animals across local to global scales. Her research on climate change ecology has elucidated important roles of biotic interactions among species (such as competition, predation, and mutualism), and how these interactions can exacerbate the impacts of climate change on biodiversity. She co-leads the National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded Climate Intervention Biology Working Group, bringing together experts in climate science and ecology to research the potential ecological impacts from climate intervention. She received the MSU College of Natural Science Early Career Research Award, is lead principal investigator (PI) of NSF Macrosystems NEON and NASA grants, and is a Co-PI of the Kellogg Biological Station Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) site. She is a member of two National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine Committees: Climate Intervention in an Earth Systems Science Framework; and Research at Multiple Scales: A Vision for Continental Scale Biology. Zarnetske received a B.A. in biology and environmental science from Colby College, a M.S. from Utah State University, and a Ph.D. in integrative biology from Oregon State University, where she was an NSF IGERT Fellow. She completed her postdoctoral training as a Yale Climate and Energy Institute Postdoctoral Fellow in the Yale School of the Environment.

Abstract: Rights of Nature in the context of climate change and biodiversity

The climate and biodiversity crises are inextricably linked. Climate change and other global changes like habitat loss are impacting the composition and function of all ecological systems, from organisms to ecosystems. Intact biodiversity and functioning of these ecological systems can buffer against the impacts of climate change and provide numerous ecosystem services to humans as well. Therefore, it is essential to protect and restore nature on Earth, inclusive of its biological and physical components and their interactions. Across biological scales—from individuals, species, populations, communities, and ecosystems—and across spatial and temporal scales, life on Earth depends on essential interactions among biological and physical components to be able to exist and function properly. These interactions include species interactions like competition for food and space, predation, and pollination, and they include biophysical feedback among biota and physical components like nutrient cycling or the formation of coastal dunes. Both observational data and climate change experiments show that climate change alters biotic interactions, biodiversity, and ecological functions. With the rapid pace of climate change, Nature needs time and space to be able to adapt and evolve in order to continue to function properly. In this era of rapid global change, it is essential to conserve and restore biodiversity and its interactions with physical features and processes. Only then will we ensure the sustained functioning of ecological systems on Earth.

Panel Two

Carlos Contreras López

Visiting Fellow, Brooks McCormick Jr. Animal Law & Policy Program, Harvard Law School


Carlos Contreras López holds a degree in law from the Pontifical Xaverian University (Bogotá, Colombia, 2007) and the University of the Basque Country (San Sebastián, Spain, 2008). He wrote a Ph.D. dissertation titled The Legal Framework of Animals in Chile, Colombia, and Argentina, published as a book in 2016 while teaching Roman Law and Animal Law courses and coordinating six editions of the Master’s in Animal Law at the Autonomous University of Barcelona. He has several publications on Animal Law.

In 2016, he created a law firm ( specializing in Animal Law. He is the current President of the Barcelona Bar Association’s Commission for the Protection of Animal Rights and a Visiting Fellow at the Brooks McCormick Jr. Animal Law & Policy Program at Harvard Law School. In 2022, he won the Lush Public Awareness Prize and the Andalusian Advocacy Award.

Abstract: From Ecosystems to Animals: Examining Three Watershed Cases and Bridging the Rights of Nature and its Inhabitants

Our evolving relationship with nature signifies more than just heightened awareness. We're transitioning towards recognizing not only the rights of nature but also redefining our perceptions regarding the rights of animals within these ecosystems. This presentation will scrutinize three transformative cases: the Colombian Amazon and the Atrato River in Colombia, and the Mar Menor in Spain. These instances exemplify a world where nature is acknowledged as a bearer of rights. As advocates for animal rights, we pose a crucial question: If these ecosystems have rights, shouldn't the animals residing within them be inherently entitled to similar rights?

Jerry Urquhart

Associate Professor Lyman Briggs College and Fisheries and Wildlife


Gerald R. Urquhart Ph.D., Associate Dean for Research and Faculty Affairs, Professor of Biology, Lyman Briggs College and the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, Michigan State University. Dr. Urquhart is a tropical biologist who studies coupled natural and human systems, with over 25 years of experience working in the tropics. He teaches in both Lyman Briggs College and the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife. He began teaching at MSU in 1999 and has taught courses ranging from biology to computer science to study abroad. In his research, Dr. Urquhart is most interested in understanding the synergistic effects of globalization and climate change as the last wild places on Earth become more influenced by human activity. The majority of his work has focused on the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua, but he has a new NSF-funded project in the Brazilian Amazon. Dr. Urquhart leads study abroad programs in Nicaragua and Ecuador. In his study abroad programs, he works to emphasize the human condition in teaching about rainforests as a place where humans and wildlife coexist. Before working at Michigan State University, he received his bachelor’s degree from Lyman Briggs Michigan State University in Zoology, his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan, and a post-doctoral research position at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.

Abstract: Biodiversity and the Rights of Nature – Impressions of a Tropical Biologist

The rise in western environmental awareness and desire to protect nature that blossomed in the 1960s and 1970s led to the growth of conservation ethics, animal rights, and nature worship. Environmentalism helped birth the concept of biodiversity that emerged among scientists in subsequent decades, which led to an increased recognition of the many components of the “natural world” in ecosystems. Yet preceding these “advances” in western thought were myriad systems of traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) that valued the organisms that contribute to biodiversity and, in some instances, considered those organisms to be sentient. Thus, it is unsurprising that several of the locations at the forefront of the “rights of nature” movement are areas where TEK is less eroded and holders of such knowledge have found a voice in governance. In this presentation, I will draw from experiences in Ecuador, Nicaragua, Panama, and South Africa to examine the roles of western knowledge systems and TEK in giving rights to nature and using those rights in the protection of biodiversity.

Panel Three

Maria Mercedes Sanchez

United Nations Harmony with Nature Program


Maria Mercedes Sánchez has over 20 years of experience working in sustainable development and intergovernmental processes, including the engagement of major groups and other stakeholders through every stage of the implementation process of various UN mandates. She has worked extensively in the areas of research, report writing, project management, and communications. She has participated in four major United Nations Conferences on Sustainable Development: UNCED (1992), Rio+5 (1997), Rio+10 (2002), Rio+20 (2012) as well as in the preparations leading to the adoption of the 2030 Agenda adopted by the General Assembly in 2015.

Since the inception of the UN Harmony with Nature Programme in 2009, she has been the coordinator of and leads the Programme in support of Earth Jurisprudence principles in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda across different stakeholders concerning the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 12, target 12.8 “to ensure that people everywhere have the relevant information and awareness for sustainable development and lifestyles in Harmony with Nature.” She is the lead drafter of the reports of the Secretary-General on Harmony with Nature.

Abstract: The United Nations Harmony with Nature Programme: A Non-Anthropocentric Paradigm

In 2009, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 22 April as International Mother Earth Day and further adopted its first resolution on Harmony with Nature. To date, the General Assembly has adopted 14 resolutions on Harmony with Nature, and the Secretary-General has published 12 reports on Harmony with Nature. These documents contain different perspectives regarding the construction of a new, non-anthropocentric paradigm, highlighting that the loss of biodiversity, desertification, climate change, and the disruption of a number of natural cycles are among the costs of our disregard for Nature and the integrity of its ecosystems and life-supporting processes. This presentation examines the journey towards an Earth-centered paradigm and highlights initiatives taking place worldwide to bring about a paradigm shift.

Nichole Keway Biber


Dr. Nichole Keway Biber is a tribal citizen of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, Mishiike Dodem (turtle clan). Nichole serves on the Board of the Anishinaabek Caucus, where she helps to advance issues of importance to indigenous communities, including her work as the lead of the Wolf and Wildlife Preservation Team. A longtime grassroots activist who focuses on environmental justice as the foundational site of healing, she is a Water Protector, jingle dress dancer, and organic home gardener. Nichole also serves on the Board of the Endangered Species Coalition and is appointed to the East Lansing Parks and Recreation Commission and the Ingham County Environmental Advisory Commission, where her focus is to uplift and advocate for the restoration of biodiverse habitats.

Abstract: Gidanawendimin: We are All Related

At the core of Anishinaabe Three Fires Confederacy cultural teachings, the central trickster/hero figure Nanboozhoo was told to travel with Ma'iingan, the wolf, on a journey of companionship with the instruction to give name to all they encountered. The significance of this foundational worldview is ongoing, as Indigenous nations across Turtle Island (North American continent) and beyond resist the entrenched vilification of wolves and politicized pressures to hunt this keystone species. This disrespect is emblematic of an extractive and dominion mindset that is distinctly at odds with the lessons of right relationship provided by Ma'iingan. This tension raises fundamental questions about treaty rights, religious freedom, and how the rights of wildlife are ultimately inseparable from tribal sovereignty.

Panel Four

Macarena Montes

Visiting Fellow, Brooks McCormick Jr. Animal Law & Policy Program, Harvard Law School


Macarena Montes Franceschini is an attorney and a researcher with a Ph.D. in Law from Universitat Pompeu Fabra. She has been a visiting researcher at Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law in Heidelberg and a Rights Research Fellow at the Brooks McCormick Jr. Animal Law & Policy Program at Harvard Law School, where she is currently a visiting fellow. She is also a board member of the UPF-Centre for Animal Ethics, editor of the journal Law, Ethics and Philosophy (LEAP), a member of the Editorial Committee of the Chilean Journal of Animal Law, and the treasurer of the Great Ape Project – Spain. She has written several articles on nonhuman animal personhood, animal rights, and animal law and a book titled Animal Law in Chile.

Abstract: Animal Rights and the Rights of Nature: The Case of Woolly Monkey Estrellita

The Constitutional Court of Ecuador established binding jurisprudence on animal rights, recognizing individual animals as rights holders protected by the constitutional rights of nature in the groundbreaking judgment on Estrellita, the woolly monkey, in January 2022. The Brooks McCormick Jr. Animal Law & Policy Program at Harvard Law School and the Nonhuman Rights Project co-drafted an amicus curiae, which had a significant role in the Court’s ruling, moving the debate beyond the traditional focus on only safeguarding animal species. The presentation examines the arguments presented in this brief, the main arguments put forth by the Court, and some positive effects the judgment has had to date in Ecuador.

David Favre

MSU Professor of Law


David Favre has been a law professor at Michigan State University College of Law for over forty-four years, serving as Dean of the College for five years and teaching in Property Law, Animal Law, and International Environmental Law. Professor Favre has written several articles and books dealing with animal issues, including such topics as animal cruelty, wildlife law, animal rights, ethics of animal use, and international control of animal trade. His books include the casebook Animal Law: Welfare, Interest, and Rights (3rd ed. 2020), the ethics book Respecting Animals (2018), a legal roadmap, and The Future of Animal Law (2021). He created and is editor-in-chief of the world's largest animal legal web resource, Now residing on a farm in Lower Michigan, Professor Favre shares his space with sheep, chickens, and the usual assortment of dogs.

Abstract: Can Nature Have Legal Rights?

In determining whether Nature can have rights, the broad sweep of the word “Nature” must be considered first. Is it different from Ecology, global ecology? What happened to the modifier “Mother” Nature? Consider the primary question of who gets to define the word. What is the history of the United States in approaching these issues? The Rights of Nature as a concept has appeared on the international stage. What is the legal context that it faces? Should we push toward a global Secretariat to protect the rights of Nature?