After months of hearings and delays, the Imbabura Provincial Court in Ecuador issued a surprise ruling yesterday evening, March 29, in the case brought by local communities in Ecuador’s Intag Valley against the large-scale Llurimagua copper mining project. The court ruled that communities’ constitutional right to consultation about the project had been violated, as had the rights of nature. As a result, the court revoked the Ecuadorian-owned ENAMI EP and Chilean-owned CODELCO’s license for the Llurimagua mining project and called for an immediate stop to all work on the project, which has its camp in the Junín community forest.

“This is an amazing win for the communities of Intag,” said Gustavo Redin, a lawyer with CEDENMA representing the local communities who brought the case. “They have been leading the resistance against large-scale mining projects for years, and this is a sentence that is for the people and for nature. It’s a win for everybody, and it demonstrates that if we want to save really amazing places, like Intag, we can do it. We can save other places that are really important for the world and wildlife.”

The cloud forests of Intag Valley are in the Intag-Toisan Key Biodiversity Area, an area that is critical to the planet’s overall health and to the persistence of biodiversity on Earth. Dozens of threatened species live in the mining concession–including some species that cannot be found anywhere else. The longnose harlequin toad, which was thought to be extinct until it was rediscovered in 2016, lives in the mining concession, as well as a new species of rocket frog, which was named rana cohete resistencia de Intag, which translates to “Intag’s resistance rocket frog,” in honor of local communities’ efforts to protect the forest where it lives.

“This ruling means the longnose harlequin toad and other amphibians found nowhere else in the world will have a good chance at recovery and survival,” said Andrea Terán-Valdez, collections manager at Jambatu Amphibian Research and Conservation Center in Quito. “There are only a few dozen adult longnose harlequin toads in human care and a handful in the wild. In order to help them recover in the wild, we need a home for them to repopulate.”

In addition to imperiled amphibians, Intag Valley is also home to the critically endangered brown-headed spider monkey, the critically endangered black-and-chestnut eagle, the vulnerable Andean bear, and many species of rare orchids.

Intag’s primary cloud forests also harbor the sources of freshwater for local communities. The sources of 43 streams and rivers are inside the 12,000-acre Llurimagua mining concession.

The environmental impact assessment for the mining project failed to include many species, such as the longnose harlequin toad, and did not outline how activities would affect local communities’ freshwater resources.

“We must strengthen the opposition to mining, keep educating the local, national and International public, as well as those in power about the drastic impacts that mining has in biodiverse and pristine forested areas like ours,” said Carlos Zorilla, co-founder of Defensa y Conservacion de Intag (DECOIN), and a resident of Intag. “If we devastate the biodiversity here, it will actually accelerate and deepen the climate crisis. This is the sixth time a transnational mining company has had to abandon the Intag area–and we sure hope it is the last.”

Photo: Intag Valley. (Photo by Lucas Bustamante)