Quick side note: The Whirlpool of Life blog got me interested in the Bioneers Conference and movement. http://scottsampson.blogspot.com/2010/10/psychology-of-sustainability.html
I have been meaning to post on the topic of what I might call ecosystem rights, the ethical right for a natural space to exist with the least impact possible, including not only animal species, but also plants and even air soil and water.
Whenever I see a natural area despoiled and especially razed unnecessarily for a building project, I feel like I have witnessed a crime. A crime against nature. True, I'm seen as a bleeding-heart complainer by some, but I think this ethical question bears discussion.
We talk about crimes against humanity. But that's a modern idea. In the past, there were no such ideas. In fact, proponents of this concept of nature rights are quick to point out that slavery, including abuse of and murder of, were not so long ago strictly a matter of property.
I have to wonder, is it meaninful to say that an ecosystem "wants" to remain natural? Well, it is certainly meaningful to say that a dog wants something, so sentience is not absolutely required. Bees have instinct, but thats understood to be different. A vine slowly clasps another plant to reach farther sunward. One can easily argue it is foolish to describe that as "wanting" in the sense we understand it, but I'm not so sure.
I am reminded of historical sites also. Before there was protection of such heritage sites, they were often simply plowed over as needed. Disregarded. Destroyed. So, is it enough to merely protection for nature? Or would "rights" be more accurate?
Many of these ideas (well, most) I have gotten from Garrett Hardin's "Tragedy of the Commons" and other associated works published as "Managing the Commons". Although that book has been around since the 70s, I don't hear too much about it.