Thursday, February 9th, 2023
Thursday, February 9th, 2023

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Sierra Club lawsuit dismissed by judge

Correspondent

Grand Rapids, Mich. A lawsuit that sought to block the logging
of aspen on the Chequamegon-Nicolet and six other national forests
in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota was recently dismissed by a
federal judge.

The development is being called a victory for wildlife and
healthy forests in general by the Ruffed Grouse Society (RGS).

Dan Dessecker, of Rice Lake, RGS senior wildlife biologist, said
the hands-off approach to forest conservation that was promoted by
the Sierra Club’s lawsuit is the same misguided management that led
to the fires that are currently racing across vast portions of the
western U.S.

“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,” Dessecker said. “Not only
ruffed grouse and other game wildlife would suffer, but the
golden-winged warbler, gray wolf, and many other types of nongame
wildlife would be affected as well.”

The Sierra Club’s lawsuit lapsed because the club’s pro bono
lawyer withdrew from the case. Anne Woiwode, director of the
Michigan Chapter of the Sierra Club, said the chapter’s lawyer
moved to Louisiana, and the group was unable to find a replacement
lawyer to handle the case.

“It is somewhat telling that no other attorney is willing to
take the case, especially with this group’s financial resources,”
Dessecker said. “My guess is they will refile it at some point in
the future, and keep throwing darts at land managers.”

“The dismissal has nothing to do with the merits of the
lawsuit,” Woiwode said. “The issues are still very valuable, and we
may still litigate on it.”

Dessecker said the suits are a tactical maneuver by the Sierra
Club to pressure Forest Service officials “to move in their
direction in order to avoid the lawsuits.”

Other organizations that joined RGS to fight in defense of
Forest Service land management policies and science-based forest
stewardship included the Nicolet Hardwood Corp. and Minnesota
Timber Producers.

Group’s second win

Dismissal of the lawsuit is the second court setback this year
for the Sierra Club.

Earlier this year, a federal court in Michigan upheld habitat
management and the position of the Ruffed Grouse Society and other
wildlife conservation groups that had entered a lawsuit in support
of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).

The suit, also filed by the Sierra Club, could have hampered the
ability of state agencies to sustain healthy forests and wildlife
populations on public lands.

“Essentially, Sierra Club wanted to require the DNR and FWS to
prepare an endless litany of unnecessary environmental
documentation,” said Michigan DNR director K.L. Cool.

Added Dessecker, “Although these baseless lawsuits consume time
and money that could be far better spent addressing the needs of
our nation’s forests, the Ruffed Grouse Society and other dedicated
conservationists have no choice but to protect forest wildlife and
to defend the rights of sportsmen by shining the light of common
sense on the management of our public forestlands.”

The suit that was dismissed June 17 alleged Forest Service
decisions promoting aspen clear-cutting are holding back
restoration of native white pine forests and maintaining
white-tailed deer numbers at levels that cause property damage and
environmental impacts.

Threat to diversity

Dessecker called the suit a serious threat to forest wildlife
and regional biological diversity.

“In the eastern U.S., the Great Lakes states offer the only
opportunity to project this unique resource as functional aspen
forest communities are all but nonexistent outside of Michigan,
Minnesota and Wisconsin,” he said.

He said northern hardwood forests are already far more abundant
in the northern Great Lakes region than are aspen forests, now
accounting for 31 percent of the forests as compared to 22 percent
aspen.

“Reductions in the conservation of aspen forests would only
exacerbate the continuing loss of our aspen forests,” Dessecker
said.

“It is very important that we have this balance in our forest
management,” added Gary Zimmer of Laona, Great Lakes regional
biologist for RGS. “This lawsuit would have taken away the tool of
early successional habitat management that is important to so many
of our forest wildlife species.”

The dismissal was handled by U.S. Federal Court Judge David
McKeague in the Western District of Michigan.

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