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
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
"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.