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Sierra Club drops Great Lakes aspen management suit
Conservation group loses attorney; case centered on biodiversity

Duluth News Tribune

Faced with its attorney moving to Louisiana and no other lawyer willing to take the job, the Sierra Club has dropped a lawsuit that challenged how the U.S. Forest Service managed aspen on national forests across the Great Lakes.

The Sierra Club's Michigan chapter agreed to dismiss the case and U.S. Judge David McKeague accepted the dismissal last month in federal district court in Grand Rapids, Mich.

No decision was made on the merits of the case, which had alleged that the Forest Service was managing too much for aspen for industry mills and not enough for other species, such as white pine, for biodiversity.

The Sierra Club claims that Forest Service management is maintaining 10 times more aspen in Great Lakes national forests than in pre-logging days.

The Sierra Club specifically was trying to stop a 493-acre sale of aspen in the Ottawa National Forest in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. But the suit had much broader implications. The Sierra Club had moved to stop all aspen sales and to order the Forest Service to conduct an environmental review of its aspen management programs across the Great Lakes region.

The suit would have affected the Superior and Chippewa national forests in Minnesota; the Chequamegon-Nicolet forest in Wisconsin; and the Huron-Manistee, Hiawatha and Ottawa forests in Michigan.

The case was officially dismissed on June 13, although the judge ruled that it could be filed again.

Anne Woiwode, spokeswoman for the Lansing, Mich.- based chapter of the Sierra Club, could not be reached for comment Monday.

In the suit, the Sierra Club said that by managing for so much aspen, a highly prized species for paper mills and board plants, the Forest Service has prevented other species from returning to their natural role in Great Lakes forests. Increasing the acreage of aspen has created a host of environmental impacts, including a huge increase in the number of whitetail deer in the region in recent years.

The case was considered important because of the ongoing demand for aspen. In Minnesota, demand for aspen is expected to exceed supply in coming years. While less than 10 percent of Minnesota's annual tree harvest comes from national forests, the two forests are critical in supplying several mills. Nearly 60 percent of the Superior National Forest annual harvest is aspen.

Wayne Brandt, executive vice president of the Minnesota Timber Producers group which filed to support the Forest Service as a defendant in the case, said the fact that the Sierra Club couldn't find another lawyer to take the case was telling.

"It's a testament to how weak this case was. It was never serious. It was always a political statement," Brandt said.

The Ruffed Grouse Society, which joined the lawsuit to defend Forest Service aspen management, praised the case's dismissal. Because grouse tend to favor access to younger aspen, the group favors aspen management.

"The elimination of aspen habitat management on 1.3 million acres of public land would be a serious blow to the wildlife of the Great Lakes region and to sport hunting," said Dan Dessecker, a wildlife biologist for the Ruffed Grouse Society.

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