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Legal Milestone List

  Berrien County Courthouse
  Elloitt-Larsen Civil Rights Act
  Milliken v. Bradley
  Elk, Oil, and the Environment
  Whisper to Rallying Cry
  Poletown & Eminent Domain
  Prentiss M. Brown
  Otis Milton Smith
  Freedom Road
  President Gerald R. Ford
  Mary Coleman
  Committee of One
  Milo Radulovich
  Striking Racial Covenants
  Murphy's Dissent
  Conveying Michigan
  Ending Jim Crow
  Pond's Defense
  Mount Clemens Pottery
  Emelia Schaub
  Rose of Aberlone
  Protecting the Impaired
  Laughing Whitefish
  The Uninvited Ear
  The King's Grant
  Improving Justice
  One Person—One Vote
  Eva Belles' Vote
  Constitutional Convention
  Ten Hours or No Sawdust
  Access to Public Water
  Augustus Woodward
  Sojourner Truth
  Justice William Fletcher
  Roosevelt-Newett Trial
  Cooley Law Office
  Baseball Reserve Clause
  Ossian Sweet Trial


35. Elk, Oil, and the Environment

A 1979 landmark Michigan Supreme Court case (West Michigan Environmental Action Council, Inc. v. Natural Resources Commission) eventually led to an extraordinary agreement between state government, the oil industry, and environmental groups. It allowed tightly regulated drilling in the southern one-third of the forest, which decades later has yielded valuable gas and oil reserves while the elk herd has continued to grow.

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Complete Text on Milestone Marker

    Elk, Oil, and the Environment

    During the 1970s, the Pigeon River Country State Forest—home to the only substantial wild elk herd east of the Mississippi River—was the scene of one of the longest, most controversial environmental battles in Michigan history. As the largest piece of undeveloped state-owned property in the Lower Peninsula (covering portions of Otsego, Cheboygan, and Montmorency counties), the forest sits on huge reserves of oil and natural gas.

    At a time when fuel shortages were causing long lines at gas pumps, oil companies were eager to explore and drill in the 91,000-acre forest. In 1970 the Michigan Environmental Protection Act (MEPA) gave any person or organization the right to sue to protect natural resources. Concerned citizens and environmentalists, emboldened by MEPA, banded together to halt drilling for oil and natural gas in the forest, claiming it would harm wildlife, especially the elk.

    For almost 10 years, the two sides engaged in a series of lawsuits, consent orders, legislation, and compromises. A 1979 landmark Michigan Supreme Court case (West Michigan Environmental Action Council, Inc. v. Natural Resources Commission) not only provided guidance on the type of harm that will justify MEPA relief in Michigan but also eventually led to an extraordinary agreement between state government, the oil industry, and environmental groups. It allowed tightly regulated drilling in the southern one-third of the forest under the watchful eye of the Pigeon River Advisory Council.

    Decades later the forest has yielded valuable gas and oil reserves while the elk herd has continued to grow. Not only did the Pigeon River dispute set standards for future oil drilling in Michigan, it became a national and international model for resource management.

    Placed by the State Bar of Michigan and the 46th Circuit Bar Association, June 9, 2010

   
 

 

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