From Monday through Thursday of this week, I toured the state as part of a “Place-Based Workshop” put on annually by The Center for Culture, History, and Environment (CHE) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I’ve been one of CHE’s Graduate Student Affiliates for a few years now, but this was the first CHE Place-Based Workshop that I’ve attended. The theme of this year’s workshop was “Landscapes of Health,” and I felt really fortunate to be a part of a group of 30+ graduate students, faculty, and friends who traveled all over the state exploring issues of health and wellness. We met all kinds of really interesting people, saw a number of fascinating sites of historical interest, ate some marvelous food, and learned so many things.
On the second day of the trip we traveled to Crandon, Wisconsin, where a group of local Native Americans (led by Tina Van Zile, a member of the Sakaogan Chippewa community near Mole Lake and Wolf River–watch a brief walking tour of the location here) and environmental activists successfully defeated the proposed construction of the Crandon Mine (see the link for a collection of resources hosted by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources). After several years of legal wrangling with Exxon, the Sakoagan Chippewa and the Forest County Potawatami eventually purchased the mining site for $16.5 million from Nicolet Minerals in October of 2003.
While we were in Crandon listening to presentations by Tina Van Zile, Glenn Reynolds (the tribe’s legal counsel), and Roman Ferdinand (the tribe’s hydrogeologist), we were pleasantly surprised by the arrival of members of the Bad River Chippewa band, including a tribal elder and Mike Wiggins Jr., the band’s current chairman–an event which was not on our scheduled itinerary. Chairman Wiggins and his colleagues had come to Crandon because they wanted to discuss strategy regarding their ongoing battle to stop Gogebic Taconite’s plans to open an open pit iron ore mine in an area between Anderson in Iron County and Morse in Ashland County, a plan which Chairman Wiggins fears will prove disastrous for his people, their way of life, and the quality of their environment. Borrowing from a strategy which proved to be key in the Sakaogan band’s efforts to block the Crandon mine permits, in July of 2009, the Bad River band recently succeeded in completinga Water Quality Standards program application, under which the EPA granted the band authority to run its own water quality standards program on its reservation. In his remarks to us, Chairman Wiggins indicated that the band was nearing completion of these standards and hoped to have them finalized and approved before the DNR makes a decision on Gocebic Taconite’s impending application for a mining permit.
Chairman Wiggins also informed us of a distressing proposal to alter the licensing procedure for iron mines in the state. The full draft of this bill (along with a 20+ page Analysis by the nonpartisan Legislative Review Bureau) can be found here–if you care about mining and environmental issues in Wisconsin–I’d highly recommend reading the at least the overview. Clean Wisconsin, the state’s oldest and largest environmental protection group, has also published their own summary of the proposed legislation.
I’m deeply concerned about these proposals–mining does produce great wealth, and human demand for resources is massive (and growing), but the environmental and health costs of the extraction industry are enormous (read documentary poet Mark Nowak’s excellent book Coal Mountain Elementary and subscribe to his Coal Mountain blog for daily reminders of the cost of the global coal extraction industry), and their concentrated devastation and destruction seems to my mind in many cases to override the potential benefits that these proposed mines would offer.
For more information about this specific proposal, here are a few sources of information:
This enthusiastic November 2010 Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel article (which focuses on the anticipated financial benefits and job creation from the proposed mine). The article contains a lot of good information, but ends with this quote from a Iron County board member (and ex-mine worker): “The county is 100% in support of this”–so you can judge for yourself about the article’s overall accuracy.
This critical article in the Chippewa Valley Post about the Gogebic Taconite mine and the draft of the mining legislation.
This resource-rich page from the Nature Conservancy about mining in the Penokee Range.
A short transcript of a piece produced for Wisconsin Public Radio on the environmental impacts of the proposed mine.
So, what to do about this? Inform yourself and then take action. After requesting and analyzing information on this proposal, stand up, speak out, support those who are fighting the proposal, and do some fighting yourself.
Here are a few ideas:
On their website, Gogebic Taconite writes that they
have spent the last couple of months getting to know many of our neighbors and listening to the questions raised about how we would design, engineer, permit, construct and operate the GTAC iron ore mine in a responsible manner. These discussions and our interaction with all our neighbors have been very important to us and we hope to continue these dialogues as we move forward through the permitting process. If you have questions you would like us to address, or have a community project you believe we should support, please feel free to contact us at email@example.com.
Write Gogebic Taconite with direct questions, or even suggest supporting the Bad River band’s community project (stop the mine from receiving a permit–ha!).
Contact your State Legislators and let them know your feelings about the draft of the Ferrous Metallic Mining law (LRB‐2035/1) you’ve read and find our their position. Encourage them to update their position to reflect your views.
Contact Ervin Soulier, the Bad River Band’s Natural Resources Manager, to see what you can do to help the Bad River band protect the quality of their environment. Consult this list to find other relevant members of the Wisconsin Tribal Conservation Advisory Council Members if you’re interested in reaching further afield.
Join the ongoing Mother Earth Water Walk, in which Anishinaabe women walking from the four cardinal directions of the North American continent will converge on Bad River, Wisconsin on the weekend of June 11-13. Suggestions for involvement can be found on the last page of this brochure and more information is contained in this press release. Special thanks to Diana Peterson for the link to the website.
Write a letter to your local newspaper or community newsletter about this legislation or the Gogebic Taconite proposal and how it will likely affect the nearby Native American community. If you want to start small, I edit the Eagle Heights newsletter, a small monthly newsletter for the University Apartments community at UW-Madison (circulation: 1250) and would welcome a brief editorial/information piece/personal narrative from anyone who’d like to produce such a piece on this or any other environmental issue of local concern.
Join Clean Wisconsin’s Action Network to join their efforts to preserve Wisconsin’s environment.
Any other information or suggestions would be greatly appreciated.