Government files reply to Cowles Bog lawsuit
By Teresa Auch Schultz firstname.lastname@example.org January 4, 2013 3:44PM
Updated: February 6, 2013 6:09AM
The federal government hit back against a lawsuit trying to stop it from clearing out 3,400 trees in Cowles Bog in order to restore the area to its original state.
In a response filed Friday in the U.S. District Court in Hammond, attorneys say that the lawsuit by the Coalition to Protect Cowles Bog Area has no legal or scientific standing.
The coalition filed a lawsuit in early December asking a federal judge to issue a preliminary injunction to stop the U.S. National Park Service from cutting down the trees in the bog, which is part of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and just south of Dune Acres and north of U.S. 12. The coalition claimed in its lawsuit that the government used fake information to decide that trees were not originally part of the bog and that removing them would cause Dune Acres residents and the environment harm.
However, the government says in its response that it relied on several pieces of evidence, including notes from an 1830 survey, soil samples and aerial views taken between the 1930s to now, showing trees didn’t become abundant in the area until around the 1950s, after people drained the bog.
The response also dismissed arguments that it didn’t include a petition signed by more than 90 people against the project, noting that the opposition had presented no evidence showing that the science used to establish the project was faulty.
“...They suggest that public opposition should halt the project,” the filing says. “Mere opposition to a project, however, is insufficient to show that the project is ‘highly controversial’...”
The project also has the support of several well-known environmental and science groups, including the Field Museum, Save the Dunes and the National Parks Conservation Association. Instead of harming the environment, the response said, the project to restore the bog to its original wetland status will help to get rid of invasive species, which includes the trees, and bring back plants and animals that are native. The current tree canopy prevents native plants from growing.
“Although individual trees will be removed as part of this project, the environment will be enhanced, not harmed,” the filing says.
A study that the coalition accused the government of suppressing even backs up the government’s own finding by showing that only one corner of the bog originally had trees, according to the response. The restoration project calls for a small areas of trees in that corner to remain.
Work to cut down the trees started Dec. 4 and is about a third of the way done. The national park has to finish the work by April 1 or else it can’t cut any more down until October because of federal rules. The filing says if it is banned from cutting down the trees until the lawsuit is settled, the park won’’ be able to move forward with restoration.
A hearing on the issue has been set for Jan. 18.