Center for Biological Diversity

Protecting endangered species and wild places of western North America
and the Pacific through science, policy, education, and environmental law.

November 15, 2001


CONTACT: Brent Plater, Attorney, CBD (248) 210-5410 or (415) 572-6989
Doug Cornett, NWR (906) 225-1938
Ray Fenner, SWAN (320) 245-6800

More Information: Center's Michigan Wild and Scenic Rivers Campaign, Center's Rivers and Watersheds Program

Lawsuit Filed to Protect Michigan's Neglected Wild and Scenic Rivers
Ten Years Later, Six Rivers Still Waiting for Federally Mandated Action

Nearly ten years after Representative Dale Kildee and other Michigan legislators successfully achieved federal recognition and protection for dozens of Michigan's outstanding rivers, conservationists from around the Great Lakes filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging that hundreds of miles of those rivers in the Ottawa National Forest (U.P.) have been purposefully neglected by the United States Forest Service in flagrant violation of federal law.

The lawsuit, filed today by the Center for Biological Diversity ("CBD"), Northwoods Wilderness Recovery ("NWR"), and the Superior Wilderness Action Network ("SWAN"), involves The Black, Ontonagon, Paint, Presque Isle, Sturgeon, and Yellow Dog Rivers. These rivers are all federally designated Wild and Scenic Rivers in the Ottawa National Forest. The rivers received federal designation for their outstanding and remarkable recreational, ecological, and wildlife values, but instead of creating comprehensive management plans to protect and enhance these values as required by law, the Forest Service has managed these areas to maximize the monetary value of timber. Hundreds of acres have been cut since the rivers were designated, while not a single comprehensive management plan has been drafted.

"The Wild & Scenic Rivers of the Ottawa are national treasures facing death from a thousand clearcuts," said Brent Plater, attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. "The Ottawa has been running roughshod over the management guidance provided by the people of this state and country, and its time we all stood up and told the Forest Service that the Wild and Scenic Rivers in Michigan must receive the level of care they are entitled to by law."

The nearly one million acre Ottawa National Forest is located in Michigan's western Upper Peninsula, and contains some of the best wildlife habitat in the state. Over 500,000 acres of second-growth hardwood forests are found within the Ottawa, which are just beginning to mature and re-gain characteristics of old-growth forest after being devastated by the logging era that ended in the 1930's. Since the inception of the Ottawa's management plan in 1986, hardwood forests have been over-cut by at least 60%. Timbering and road building in and near the Wild and Scenic Rivers have major impacts on imperiled species such as Canada lynx, American bittern, American bald eagle, Northern goshawk, red-shouldered hawk, and Eastern timber wolf.

The Ottawa's violation of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act won't surprise those who monitor forests across the country. A recent report from the Native Forest Protection Alliance ranked the Ottawa the 8th most endangered national forest in the country due to excessive logging, road building, and ATV (All-terrain vehicle) use. "The scofflaw management of the Forest Service has left a landscape where wholesale logging, road building, and ATV proliferation reigns supreme," said Doug Cornett, Executive Director of NWR. "These activities are inconsistent with protecting our Wild and Scenic Rivers, and this lawsuit will bring about a sea-change in on-the-ground management in the river corridors and adjacent lands."

The six designated rivers comprise over 300 miles of riparian habitat within the Ottawa National Forest. Congress designated 63.4 miles as "wild," 82.5 miles as "scenic," and 162.5 miles as "recreational." For each designated river, the Forest Service was charged with establishing detailed boundaries that include surrounding areas exhibiting outstandingly remarkable values; creating and implementing comprehensive management plans that will protect and enhance those values; and insuring that management directives on bordering and adjacent areas are consistent with protecting and enhancing the river corridor. These mandates all must go through a public hearing and review process. To date, the Forest Service has failed to take any of these steps, instead relying on cursory "standards & guidelines" to manage these areas, in violation of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

"This pattern of neglect on the Ottawa can be seen on many public lands throughout the Midwest," said Ray Fenner, Executive Director of SWAN. "What is exciting about the Ottawa is we have the laws in place to turn the forest around from one of the 10 most imperiled in the country to a forest where the integrity of the outstanding and remarkable resources in the Upper Peninsula are preserved in perpetuity. If we can get the Forest Service to comply with the law, we'll be well on our way toward achieving that goal."


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