Virtual Panel: Science & the Environment

The third panel, Science & the Environment, was moderated by Allison Werner. We had four panelists:

  • Tina Van Zile, a Sokaogon Ojibwe, Forest County Potawatomi Native, and enrolled member of the Sokaogon Chippewa Community. She has been with the Sokaogon Environmental Department since 1994, where she has served as Environmental Director since 1999. Tina currently serves as Vice-President for Wisconsin Tribal Conservation Advisory Council and former Board Member for River Alliance of Wisconsin.
  • Doug Cox, a member of the Menominee Tribe. He has sat on the Menominee Tribal Legislature, and has worked closely in environmental protection as an environmental specialist and forest ecologist. 
  • John Coleman, the Environmental Section Leader with the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission. 
  • Dave Blouin, chair of the Sierra Club’s state mining committee since the early 1993 and co-founder of the Mining Impact Coalition of Wisconsin.

Key takeaways:

  • Tina started us off by talking about the state of Wisconsin’s laws—they aren’t written to protect cultural resources or sometimes even the environment, and recently environmental protections in the state have weakened. She reminded us that we must speak for the things in our environment who can’t speak for themselves, like the water, the trees, plants, and animals. The growth of one culturally significant plant and food, Manomin (wild rice), is stunted when it is exposed to heavy metals from mining, impacting the entire plant’s ability to establish itself in the soil.  
  • Mole Lake was the first tribe east of the Mississippi to get water quality standards in 1995. Their standards are set on baseline data, where the natural level is the acceptable level.
  • Tina brought up the language of “usable groundwater” in NR182, making the point that everything is usable and all water is connected. 
  • Doug Cox spoke about mining impacts on everyone and specifically to the Menominee tribe. He said that it’s not a question on whether there are going to be impacts, but how much. He told us that the mining industry pollutes 17-27 billion gallons of water per year, and gave the example of tailings management areas (dams) that leak and fail, such as the Brazilian Brumahdinho and Mariana Tailings Dam failings.
  • A permit for the Back Forty Mine tailings dam will be needed—pay attention for the public hearings process in Michigan. The proposed open pit by Aquila Resources would be directly adjacent to the Menominee River. In addition to water pollution, the proposed mine would have visual impacts, and since it is situated on (unadjudicated) Menominee ceded territory, important cultural impacts.
  • John Coleman introduced us to the Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission’s publication Metallic Mineral Mining: The Process & the Price. John summarized from this publication the impacts through the mining process from mineral exploration through ore extraction to long lasting impacts after a mine has been decommissioned.
  • Dave Blouin talked about the overall mining landscape in Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in regards to the increased interested in mineral sulfide mining in this area, with around 15 mineral occurrences state-wide. He shared that the deposits the mining industry is most interested in Wisconsin are mineral sulfide deposits, just like the Back Forty Mine in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
  • Previous risks of exploration on the Wolf River seemed low, because the ore seemed to be sub-economic (too small to be economically viable); but the exploratory drilling program shows renewed interest in the potential for a mining site to be developed.
  • The man that founded Badger Minerals co-founded Aquila resources, the company running the Back Forty Mine project. Neither company has any mining experience.

Panelists

Tina L. Van Zile is a Sokaogon Ojibwe and Forest County Potawatomi Native. She is also an enrolled member of the Sokaogon Chippewa Community. She has been married to her husband Rick for 27 years and she has two children, Joel and Tashena and three granddaughters, Rikki, MaryJane and Athena. She has been with the Sokaogon Environmental Department since 1994, where she has served as Environmental Director since 1999. Tina currently serves as Vice-President for Wisconsin Tribal Conservation Advisory Council and former Board Member for River Alliance of Wisconsin. She served on the Sokaogon Tribal Council from 1999-2007 (1999-2000 Tribal Secretary and 2001-2007 Vice-Chairwoman). 2019 Water Hero (River Alliance). Tina was instrumental in fighting the Proposed Crandon Mine and glad it came to an end in 2003. She is very passionate about protecting her homelands from any threats that may arise. She currently operates the Tribes Regulatory Permitting as it relates to the TAS Water Quality program, Solid Waste and Recycling program, DNR Summer Youth program and Invasive Species program. In her spare time, she’s a bookworm!

Doug Cox is a member of the Menominee Tribe. He has sat on the Menominee Tribal Legislature, and has worked closely in environmental protection as an environmental specialist and forest ecologist. He has experience in water quality standards and environmental regulatory management including Tribal, Federal and State regulation, and NEPA compliance.

John Coleman is the Environmental Section Leader with the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission. His educational background is in forest and wildlife ecology, computer modeling, and statistics. He received his PhD from the University of Wisconsin in 1994. Since 1994 he has committed the majority of his time to evaluation of hydrologic impacts of industrial development in the Chippewa Ceded Territories. His training in computer modeling and statistics has led to a focus on data adequacy and uncertainty in predictive modeling. He has evaluated multiple mining projects during state level environmental permitting and provided technical expertise on hydrology and water quality to tribes participating in federal Environmental Impact Statements on three hard rock mining projects. In his role as section leader, he leads GLIFWC’s water sampling program, has participated in the development of state sulfide mining regulations in Michigan and Wisconsin, and has worked with the U.S. Forest service in developing stipulations for sulfide mineral exploration on national forests.

Dave Blouin has chaired the Sierra Club’s state mining committee since the early 1993 and co-founded the Mining Impact Coalition of Wisconsin.   Both organizations worked on the Flambeau mine, the Crandon proposal, the Gogebic Taconite proposal, legislation including a proposed ban on cyanide in mining, the Prove It First law and more. 

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