State Bars Indicted Energy Companies From Auctions

Song of the Morning Ranch Dam Removal

Lawsuit Has Ended

   It was June 23, 2008 when the catastrophe on the Pigeon River occurred. For those that remember, it was when Golden Lotus (Song of the Morning Ranch) discharged tons of sediment from their impoundment due to faulty dam management. This resulted in a fish kill of over 500,000 trout. That sediment discharge was the third such occurrence in 51 years. 

   Since that date the DEQ & DNR conducted an environmental investigation resulting in a lawsuit between the State of Michigan and Golden Lotus. Michigan Trout Unlimited and Pigeon River Country Association also joined the lawsuit with the State of Michigan. TU/PRCA filed a nuisance claim against Golden Lotus, which was part of the ruling by former Judge Porter in the 1984 lawsuit. The primary purposes TU/PRCA entered into this lawsuit were to ensure complete dam removal, so the Pigeon River can flow freely, and to ensure this type of catastrophe would never occur again.

   The original settlement that was reached ended up contested.  With tireless work and persistence, MITU/PRCA, the State of Michigan and Golden Lotus   regarding the Song of the Morning Ranch Dam Removal case have now reached final agreements.  This took an incredible amount of legal work, science work, negotiating and old-fashioned hard work. 

   On April 3, 2014, almost six years later, all parties affiliated with the case appeared in court to enter the agreed upon and signed final documents before Judge Allen. Judge Allen signed the documents to complete the legal process.

   It is very exciting for everyone involved and long overdue to complete the lawsuit, which is a necessary process; but now the real work begins.

   The new Collaborative Agreement, an agreement between Golden Lotus, MITU and PRCA, lays out all of the conditions, monitoring, sand removal efforts and work to be completed. As a result of these agreements, a Steering Committee will be established to make critical decisions as they arise during the dam removal. Huron Pines has been named and they have agreed to be the Project Manager for the dam removal and associated projects.

   So, what is next for the Pigeon River?

   First, the drawdown of the impoundment will start this spring. Due to light organic sediment, being the top layer in the impoundment, the drawdown will be a relatively slow. The Sediment Management Plan 1 will be implemented, including how the sediment will be managed once some of these sediments are transported when the Pigeon River has increased flow through the impoundment. As vegetation seeds are prevalent in the sediment, vegetation growth will occur as the dewatering occurs and the new surface is exposed to oxygen and sunlight. This new vegetation growth will stabilize the newly exposed sediment.

   The second phase of the project, which will start following the drawdown, will consist of removal of the dam structures, installation of a replacement bridge over the river (spanning the natural width of river, which is estimated at 35 feet), and removal of sand from the river.

   The Golden Lotus Dam is the most significant element impacting the health of the Pigeon River. This nearly 6 year long legal process has taken incredible resources to see through, and MITU would not have been able to effectuate this positive outcome for the Pigeon River without the continued support of our members like you.  We are pleased today to report this dam removal process will begin this spring, and the Pigeon River will forever be better because of it.   We will continue to provide more information and details about this project, but wanted to share this great news with you as soon as it was official.  Thank you for all you do to support the work of MITU.   

- John Walters, MITU & Anglers of the Au Sable

Anglers Alert: Watch "The River."  Buy "The River." Help The River!!

Dear Anglers of the Au Sable Members,

Forget brutal winter. It’s trout time. We have just the thing to get you in the mood for mayflies.

Acclaimed filmmaker and Au Sable trout bum Robert “RT” Thompson spent the past two seasons chronicling the lifestyles, traditions, bugs, trout and fishing on the Au Sable. His new three-movie DVD is called “The River.” It includes a full-length movie about the entire Au Sable, a separate profile of bamboo rod builder Bob Summers, and a third profile of a tribe of trophy-hunting streamer freaks in Mio.

You can be the first to own "The River."  And you can be among the select few who will see it on the big screen.


(Store link:

Buy online now and you’ll receive the DVD in the mail before opener – before it’s available for purchase in fly shops. A portion of all movie sales will be donated to Anglers of the Au Sable for ongoing river conservation work. The DVD is $33, or $39 for BluRay, shipping included.


The movie will premiere on the big screen for one night only at the Rialto Theater in downtown Grayling. It’s set for the night of Trout Opener. April 26. Doors open at 7 p.m. Movie showing from 8-10 p.m. We’ll have door prizes, refreshments, and a great time! Tickets can be purchased in advance at Gates Lodge for $10. It’s $12 at the door. Seating is limited. Get in early!

All proceeds from the Rialto showing will be dfonated to Anglers of the Au Sable

Here’s a sneak peak at “The River”… (Trailer link:


Questions? Contact Anglers 2nd Vice President John Bebow at or 734-474-0166. Or contact Josh Greenberg at Gates Lodge.



Thursday March 20, 2014 was an exciting day, not because the NCAA Basketball Tournament had begun, but because it was the day Michigan State University – College of Agriculture and Natural Resources holds its Honors Banquet on campus at the Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center.  It is at this event the Anglers of the Au Sable awards its annual scholarship to high achieving students majoring in Fisheries and Wildlife. 

This year the Anglers awarded its scholarship to senior Rebecca Blundell.  Rebecca is a fisheries and wildlife major with an emphasis on water sciences and is maintaining a 3.67 GPA.  As part of her degree program, Rebecca recently participated in a stream habitat assessment of the Kalamazoo River.  Following graduation, she plans on attending graduate school.  Shown in the photo above are Rebecca Blundell, Anglers Vice President Thomas Baird and Anglers President Bruce Pregler.

When Rebecca is not working toward her degree, she enjoys kayaking, tying flies and, of course, fishing.  Rebecca readily admits she needs work on her fly fishing skills but is intrigued by the sport. 

This year’s scholarship winner is most deserving.  Rebecca is a smart and delightful young lady who is pursing her passion of managing and protecting our State's waters.  The Anglers will continue to award scholarships to fisheries and wildlife student majors as it is these students who will become the future stewards of our beloved waters.  

-  Bruce Pregler, President

HRE Committee continues work on North Branch; Brook Trout telemetry study planned as well

     Anglers’ Habitat, Restoration and Environment Committee has obtained funding to continue work on the North Branch plus conduct an another telemetry study – this time on brook trout.   

   The North Branch project enters Phase Two this season.  The plan has been to improve trout habitat in the river channel through construction and placement of various in-stream fish habitat structures.  These structures have been designed to perform various functions within the stream channel including sand/sediment management – moving and/or containing excess sand bed-load; restoring and enhancing gravel substrates for insect production and trout spawning; and providing in-stream cover for trout and improving recruitment to older age classes…  

(Webmaster's Note:  This is the first in a series of fishing related pieces that we will be featuring on the webpage this season.  Look for our Fishing Page soon.)

Looking For Spring

This Michigan winter's Cicely-plus snow piles would have Dr. Joel Fleishman looking twice. The towering size of our endless piles resolved any doubt that the snow we remember from childhood really was that big, not like the myth of large drinking fountains in elementary school. We all of us will always remember this winter even through any coming dementia haze

But there was a first for me this winter in early January arriving at my cabin. While unloading I heard or rather didn't hear something that was always there---the river. The North Branch flows fast and strong, a symphony of tones, as it rushes to its nearby confluence with the Main. Its sound is as much a part of the landscape here as the pine scent and seemingly unnaturally bright star light. Yet this winter it had frozen over completely somehow. The quiet was deafening. Weeks, then months passed without even a sliver of open water.

After snow-blowing yesterday, both at home twice and the office twice, what seemed like yet another eight inches, I was still on top of the week's work, said Grayling would be 45 degrees on Friday (so fishable), I needed another day at Duane's to finish work on my new bamboo rod, and Bonnie had to work late Wednesday and Thursday. So I loaded up and headed Up North for a couple of days, knowing I could work from the cabin, or at least I convinced myself I would.

Just south of Saginaw the temp dropped to single digits but there was no snow on the roads and it was clear there hadn't been any. As I drove, I puzzled over where I would fish and when. There is little open trout water this year---Keystone or down below the dam at Mio, where I waded a week ago, had been my forced substitutes for two months. Neither had been productive the last two months

The season's snow pack on my wooded driveway had melted now and then frozen again leaving a thick, slick sheet of ice, making the steep hill down to the cabin particularly tricky. Trickier was carrying my unloaded gear over crunchy snow and ice without falling. As I paused at the door to find my key in the dark; everything went quiet----except the river. I looked out over the rail to see it was open and not just a little

So the next day I could fish the convenient, familiar nooks and log jams of the North Branch, hoping to renew acquaintances with certain brown trout that stalk these waters on occasion.

It may not actually be spring yet but open water was the first sign the back was broken on this very grumpy old man winter for this old man.

Busy the next morning with various client emergencies, real and perceived, and that afternoon scuffing then varnishing the guide wraps on my new bamboo, it wasn’t until the late the next afternoon that I ventured down to the river, armed for battle—from waders to rod with a tail-biter olive streamer as ammunition.

Starved for new water of the winter’s many snows by the ice that had covered it so completely, the water level had dropped as foot or more below the remnants of the almost three foot thick shelf ice. I stood for the longest time, not scouting the river for fish as usual, but trying to imagine the sounds and sights of the massive chucks of ice breaking then rolling down the river tumbling, colliding, pounding the shore ice, scraping the gravel bottom, dragging and pushing debris at will. Although I had only been away a week, I missed that show. Only a winter like this one could give us such a dramatic spring.

You can guess the one remaining sign of spring I stalked now.   It was not from the easy, slow water but from the heavy, churning current mid-river. And it struck with force and fury, pulling line for the instant before I lifted the rod tip for the set, causing him to jump from the water and then fight and fight as though it were June, as though this brown trout was unaware he was supposed to be lethargic with winter’s cold, like the rest of us.

The instant I released him, he darted away full speed. It was spring for him, too


- Neil Wallace

Jim Schramm Named River Champion by American Rivers Organization

Read More About Jim Here

"Since the early 1990's Jim has traveled around the state and to Washington DC on behalf of the Michigan Hydro Relicensing Coalition (MHRC).  Since he does not fly this often resulted in being on the road for up to a week.  Many of the trips in state were to the UP and required an overnight stay.  Without his attendance at the meetings he travelled to there would probably not be a MHRC any longer.

During his trips to DC he managed to negotiate funding for the MHRC that kept us afloat financially for a lot of years.  In recent years he has cut back on his long trips  for the MHRC but because of his expertise on Hydro issues he was asked to take on the responsibility of working on the Boardman River dam removal project.  Without his efforts it is likely that the removal of these dams would never have happened.
All of this is in addition to his ongoing efforts on our behalf for the Anglers, FFF, GLC, and other local clubs around the state. 
There is no way to adequately express our gratitude for all of his efforts.  He would likely shrug it off and mention others he has worked with anyway.   It is gratifying to see him recognized by a prominent nationwide river conservation organization.
Many thanks are greatly deserved."
- Terry Lyons, Board Member, FFF-GLC, Anglers of the Au Sable


Schuette Files Criminal Charges Against Energy Firms Chesapeake and Encana

Conspiracy Caused Price Crash in Bidding Scandal; Companies Face Up to $1 Million Penalty 

Conservation groups call for vigorous prosecution in collusion case that could have cost Michigan $200 million

ANN ARBOR, LANSING --- Criminal charges against two oil companies are appropriate and should be pursued vigorously, key Michigan conservation groups said today. Attorney General Bill Schuette has charged Encana Oil and Gas USA and Chesapeake Energy Corporation with collusion. They are alleged to have conspired to hold bid prices down in an October 2010 auction of oil and gas leases.

The groups also called on Schuette and other appropriate state officials to immediately suspend leasing, drilling, and permitting by both companies in Michigan until the issue is resolved. Encana has submitted permit applications to drill for oil and gas, which could permanently contaminate hundreds of millions of gallons of Michigan water.

The maximum $1 million fine associated with the charges is pocket change compared to what the alleged deal cost the state of Michigan. The collusion would have shortchanged the Natural Resources Trust Fund, which supports the acquisition and development of public land in Michigan with revenue from oil and gas leases on state land.

“Attorney General Schuette is on the right track by filing criminal charges, but all of the evidence leads us to believe that Encana and Chesapeake Energy cut a deal that left Michiganders, and our public land, short by hundreds of millions of dollars,” said Patty Birkholz, former State Senator and current West Michigan Director for Michigan LCV. “If found guilty, letting both companies off the hook with menial fines would send the message that repercussions for criminal activities can just be factored into the cost of doing business in Michigan. We simply cannot afford to do that.”

“If Encana and Chesapeake cannot be trusted to play by the rules, they should not be permitted to continue to lease land or drill for oil and gas in Michigan while this issue is being adjudicated,” said Tom Baird, President of Anglers of the Au Sable, a Grayling-area conservation organization. “These companies have access to our prized public land and our invaluable clean water supply. No entity facing criminal charges, with a stack of evidence mounted against them, should be allowed to continue to profit off of extracting Michigan’s natural resources.”

Schuette’s decision comes more than a year after a Reuters News Agency special report [] detailed email exchanges with strong indicators of bid-rigging between the two oil and gas companies. According to Reuters, the State of Michigan may have been cheated out of more than $200 million.  Bids by Chesapeake Energy and Encana dropped from the May 2010 auction average of $1,413 per acre down to $46 per acre at the October 2010 auction with total revenues dropping from $178 million to just $9.7 million, even though the number of acres sold more than doubled.

The Michigan Environmental Council called for the voiding of the rigged bids, should the companies be found guilty.

“If the courts find that these companies colluded in the bidding process, the state should immediately move to void the contracts in question,” said James Clift, policy director with the council. “Michiganders deserve to receive the maximum value for any assets of the state which are sold or leased. That amount can only by established through and fair and open bid process.”

Michigan LCV called for fines to be raised in order to recover the amount lost by the state due to collusion, with the addition of a penalty that discourages oil and gas companies from conspiring.

“If the Attorney General’s office is truly determined to prosecute aggressively, both companies must be held fully accountable,” Birkholz said. “Emails show that they willingly discussed price points and acreage prior to the land auction. They should pay more than peanuts for settling the case out of court or if they are found guilty.”

Revenue from state-held public auctions of oil and gas leases goes into Michigan’s Natural Resources Trust Fund. This is an effective way to reinvest dollars in the protection of the natural resources from which extraction industries draw. Since 1976, about $965 million has come out of the Natural Resources Trust Fund to acquire and develop state parks and trails. Almost 2,000 projects in nearly every county in Michigan have been completed since the Natural Resources Trust Fund’s inception. The Milliken State Park --- a 31-acre stretch of trails, trees, and wetlands along Detroit’s riverfront --- is just one example of Natural Resources Trust Fund dollars at work. Currently, the Michigan DNR is appropriating Natural Resources Trust Fund dollars to link trails across the state into one continuous 924-mile stretch that would connect Belle Isle in Detroit to the Wisconsin border in the Upper Peninsula.

If Encana and Chesapeake are found guilty of collusion, rightfully recovering the amount lost by the Natural Resources Trust Fund could fill upwards of two-thirds of the Natural Resources Trust Fund’s coffers, due to its current cap of $500 million. Directing fines from Encana and Chesapeake’s alleged criminal activity back toward the improvement of Michigan’s public, natural areas for all citizens to enjoy would be a certain step toward justice being served.


Download PDF version

Michigan League of Conservation Voters (Michigan LCV) is the leading non-partisan political voice for Michigan’s land, air, and water. Visit us online at:

To read more about the Holy Water Oil & Gas Leases Issue Click This 

Application For Youth Camp Scholarship Due March 31st

Download Here


Tess Nelkie is presented the “Riverkeeper Award” for 2013

Periodically, the Anglers of the Au Sable  will honor an individual for their tireless effort and exceptional work on Angler projects.  The highest award given by the Anglers is the “Riverkeeper” award.  Past winners of this award include environmental icon Rusty Gates and George Griffith, a founding member of Trout Unlimited.

In September 2013, the Anglers of the Au Sable presented the Riverkeeper award to Tess Nelkie for her outstanding work with high school students of our community and college students.  Tess has been on the Angler’s Board of Directors since 1992.  And for over 21 years, she has chaired the “Au Sable Words Writing Contest”, which is offered to local Michigan high school students. The students submit stories and poetry which is judged by committee with the winners being published in our quarterly magazine.  The Anglers dedicate an entire issue to this writing contest in the “Riverwatch”.  Tess also administers the Anglers college scholarship award project.  Every year the Anglers give a $1,000.00 scholarship to students majoring in Fisheries & Wildlife at Michigan State University and Lake Superior State University.  These scholarships assist students in achieving their dream of obtaining a degree and finding employment working to preserve, manage and improve Michigan’s wild places.

Anglers of the Au Sable, thank Tess for her passion and commitment to Anglers’ projects. Tess’s continuous and outstanding work with high school and college students ensures that our future stewards of the environment possess the knowledge and respect for all things natural.  Congratulations Tess, you are most deserving of this prestigious award. 

   - Bruce M. Pregler - President of Anglers of the Au Sable



Our founding president, Rusty Gates, has been inducted into the Catskill Fly Fishing Hall of Fame.

Since 1985 there have been only 70 inductees.  Among the criteria for membership in the Hall of Fame is the requirement that the inductee “must have made substantial contributions to the sport of fly fishing on a national or international basis….”

Rusty joins luminaries such as Ray Bergman, Stan Bogdan, Ernest Schwiebert (whom he once guided on the Au Sable), Gem Skues, Helen Shaw, Frederick Halford, and many other of the most significant contributors to the sport.

Alan Diodore, Director




 The Au Sable lost the best friend it ever had. Calvin “Rusty” Gates Jr., "Da Gator" to his legion of acquaintances, passed away on 19 December 2009. Things in this beautiful valley will never be the same.

Once in a lifetime there is someone that touches your life in so many ways. Rusty Gates was one of those people. His spirit and tenacity had an affect on everyone involved in environmental causes, from hikers to hunters to the many of us who came here to cast a fly far and fine. He was a fighter and it was the good fight that he chose to engage; catch and release on the Holy Waters, National Guard noise pollution on the North Branch, oil wells on the South Branch, and toxic chemicals on the Big Water. Da Gator led the way. A tap on the shoulder, a glance from those blue/grey eyes, a short conversation; that was usually all it took. We set to our tasks with a brio, partly from the cause, partly not to let him down.

He had all the connections and could accomplish more in a phone call than anyone else could do in six months of work. Where would we be without him these last 20 plus years?

A man of character and courage, he brought both, as well as his wry sense of humor, to his final battle. In the end, only his body gave out, Rusty’s spirit remained indomitable.

Rusty Gates has left us as a leader, but left a legacy as big as the river. The vigilance that he began will go on!




John Russell of Great Lakes Images is the official photographer for Anglers of the Au Sable.  Our sincerest thanks to all that have contributed pictures.  With this note we acknowledge each and every one of you and appreciate your contribution.



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