There will be no drilling for oil under the largest remaining stand of old growth white pines in the Lower Peninsula.
Department of Natural Resources Director Keith Creagh announced Thursday at a meeting of the Natural Resources Commission that the parcel of Hartwick Pines State Park that includes old growth white pines, some of them 400 years old, was being pulled from an auction that would have allowed drilling exploration underneath them.
The DNR is still considering auctioning off oil and mineral rights under about 20 percent of the park, but that section of the park doesn’t include the old growth forest.
The possibility of drilling drew an uproar from environmental groups after Bridge first reported the land underneath Hartwick Pines was nominated to be leased at auction Oct. 29.
No surface development was to be allowed, and the drilling underneath the virgin pines was unlikely to cause damage. But the leasing of oil rights underneath trees that were standing when the first European stepped foot in the area became a symbol of the tension between business interests and the state’s promotion of its image as Pure Michigan.
Just last week, Creagh responded to that criticism by writing a guest column in Bridge that defended mineral exploration underneath the park.
But state officials were swayed by a flurry of letters sent by residents after the Bridge article on the possible auction, including a letter from two grandchildren of Karen Hartwick, who gave the land to the state in 1927.
According to an email to Bridge from DNR spokesperson Debbie Munson Badini:
“Public comments regarding these parcels included information from two grandchildren of Karen Hartwick. Karen Hartwick initially gifted the land to the state in 1927. Upon review of the information received from these grandchildren, the DNR will remove approximately 7,849 acres from the auction to adhere to the spirit and intent of the generous gift of land from Ms. Hartwick. Staff are reviewing an additional 1,886 acres being offered within Hartwick Pines - land not donated by Ms. Hartwick. Those additional parcels may or may not be removed from the auction, depending upon the result of that review.”
The state’s reversal drew praise from a conservation group.
"We appreciate Director Creagh's respect for the Hartwick family's wishes, and thank him for making the right decision to protect this one-of-a-kind park," Chris Kolb, president of the Michigan Environmental Council, said in a news release. "Personally, I'm thrilled that the experience of standing beneath the park's towering white pines will remain unchanged for visitors to enjoy."