Author Archives: justynhuck

Virtual Panel: Mining Regulatory Process

The fourth panel, How the Public Can Influence the Mining Regulatory Process, moderated by Rob Lundberg included three panelists:

  • Prof. Al Gedicks, an environmental sociologist and Indigenous rights activist and scholar.
  • Tom Jerow, a member of the Board of Directors for Wisconsin’s Green Fire since 2014 and the Water Resources/Environmental Rules Working Group, leading the metallic mining sub-group. 
  • Allison Werner is the Policy & Advocacy Director for the River Alliance of Wisconsin. She is from Racine, where she was the executive director of Root-Pike Watershed Initiative Network

Key takeaways

  • In this final panel Tom Jerow got us started by discussing the logistics required by mining companies to navigate the regulatory phases of mine development, including the timeline of mining operations, and necessary permits. He gave us an overview of necessary mining permits. Importantly: these rules are currently being revised in accordance with Act 134, with a public hearing on October 22 and written comments accepted by the DNR until October 26. Read on for how to engage in the process. 
  • Both Tom and Al discussed the elimination of the Prove it First provision in Wisconsin, which previously required mining companies to show an example of a mine active for at least 10 years that didn’t pollute the air or water. This provision was initially introduced during the time of the Exxon Crandon Mine fight, and resulted in Exxon pulling out of the project.
  • Al gave historical context for using regulatory framework in fighting mining projects in Wisconsin. He discussed tools both the community and the mine would employ, and told the story of Mole Lake Sokaogon Ojibwe fighting off the Crandon mine. He told us that at the end of the Crandon mine fight from 1976-2003 was the affirmation of Mole Lake Ojibwe’s water quality standards and tribal authority over the reservation and its resources.
  • Allison left us with a few key steps for how to get involved in the regulatory process:
    • 1. DNR staff are open to questions and available to help you understand these complicated processes—reach out to them to learn more on the DNR metallic mining page.
    • 2. There are four administrative mining rules that are currently being updated. They have until February 2021 to finish this process. If folks would like to engage, the River Alliance and other organizations will provide advice on how to engage in this legal rule-making process. 
    • 3. Provide written comments by October 26 that (1) stay focused on the subject matter; (2) have specific and clear comments with your reasons for your concerns for the harm to our land and waters; (3) talk from your personal experience—where do you live, is there a mine project you are concerned about, how would your community be impacted by a specific mine project?
    • 4. Reach out to your elected officials—they need to know you care about how metallic sulfide mining would impact your community and our lands and water. 
    • 5. Connect with the organizations working on these issues. Find a list of them here.  

Panelists

Al Gedicks is an environmental sociologist and Indigenous rights activist and scholar. He has written extensively about Indigenous and popular resistance to ecologically destructive mining and oil projects. In 1977 he founded the Center for Alternative Mining Development Policy and assisted the Mole Lake Sokaogon Ojibwe Tribe in successfully resisting Exxon’s proposed zinc sulfide mine upstream from the tribe’s sacred wild rice beds. From 1995-1998, he worked with the Wolf Watershed Educational Project to mobilize public support for Wisconsin’s landmark “Prove It First” Mining Moratorium Law. He is emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and the Executive Secretary of the Wisconsin Resources Protection Council, a statewide environmental organization to educate the public about metallic sulfide mining projects in the upper Midwest. He is presently working with the Menominee Nation and the Coalition to SAVE the Menominee River to oppose the Back Forty project next to the Menominee Rivers.

Tom Jerow has served on the Board of Directors for Wisconsin’s Green Fire since inception in 2014. Wisconsin’s Green Fire supports our conservation legacy by promoting science-based management of Wisconsin’s natural resources. He is a member of the Water Resources/Environmental Rules Working Group, leading the metallic mining sub-group. Tom retired from the Wisconsin DNR in 2013 after 34 years primarily in the water program. Tom had an ancillary role on the following mining proposals while working at Wisconsin DNR: the Lynne mining proposals, the Crandon mine proposal, the Gogebic Taconite Iron mining proposal, and post closure monitoring at the Flambeau mine in Ladysmith. Tom graduated in 1979 from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point with a degree in Soil Science and has done graduate level course work in hydrogeology.

Allison Werner is the Policy & Advocacy Director for the River Alliance of Wisconsin. She is a native of Racine, where she was the executive director of Root-Pike Watershed Initiative Network. Allison joined the River Alliance in April 2006 with an extensive background in watershed advocacy and environmental education. She has a Bachelor of Science in Biological Aspects of Conservation and Graduate Certificate in Nonprofit Management, both from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. While she has had many roles at the River Alliance, at the core has always been empowering individuals and organizations to protect and restore the great waters of Wisconsin. This has included working to protect the Penokee Hills, the Willow Flowage, and the Wolf River from the threats of mining pollution. 

Keepers of the Water (1996 Film)

Documentary directed by Professor Al Gedicks about the diverse coalition of environmental activists that fought together to successfully defeat the Exxon and Rio Algom proposed copper-zinc metallic sulfide mine and toxic waste dump on the banks of the Wolf River, in Crandon, northern Wisconsin.

This film was digitized into three parts through support from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for the Humanities

We Cannot Live Without Water: The Crandon Mine Movement 1976-2003

A short film made by Claudia Delgado for the National History Day project. The video provides some historical and cultural context behind the alliance against Exxon’s proposed Crandon mine at the headwaters of the Wolf River.

Artwork by Susan Simensky Bietila is included in this film: the Tommy Thompson jester puppet, the BAN CYANIDE banner and the installation of Tombstones dedicated to rivers poisoned by mining. Included are pages from the drawn stories, A Northwoods Tale and Water Protectors. You can see the entire stories at art-as-activism.blogspot and in World War 3 Illustrated magazine (AK Press). You can also see more of Susan’s work on our blog here.

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. 

Wolf River Mining Project Update: Reduction in Number of Drilling Sites & Holes

by Ron James

Wolf River Mining Project Update: Thanks to all the people asking questions to the DNR they had to add a ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ document on the DNR website addressing exploration on MFL enrolled land. Is their explanation acceptable?

Due to increased public scrutiny Badger Minerals withdrawals some of the drilling sites and reduces the total number of holes.

Because so many people phoned, emailed, and wrote letters to the DNR staff, they were forced to address the decision to grant a metallic sulfide mining exploration license on Managed Forest Law enrolled land. The DNR included a statement about exploration drilling on tax-payer subsidized MFL land:

“The current site activity is metallic mineral exploration, not a commercial mining project. Exploratory drilling is not specifically prohibited under Wisconsin’ Managed Forest Land Program as established in Ch. 77, Wis. Stats.”

Does this explanation satisfy the tax-paying public? Ch. 77 Wis. Stats is very clear about “mining operations”. In fact, the words “mining operations” appears as a specific reference to what type of surface disturbance would make the land “ineligible” for enrollment in the MFL Program. To be clear, “mining operations” make the land ineligible for the forestland owner to receive the pennies per acre tax rate deal for land they have enrolled in the MFL Program. Metallic sulfide mineral exploration drilling is surely a “mining operation”, yet The Forestland Group is enjoying the spectacularly low, tax-payer subsidized, property tax rate!

The DNR also includes a description about ‘bulk sampling’ and leaves it unclear if they would also allow the removal of up to 10,000 tons on material from MFL enrolled land. Using the same reasoning the DNR used to allow the drilling of 800-foot deep holes in MFL land, would equate to the DNR allowing the removing of 10,000 tons of material because the words ‘bulk sampling’ also do not appear as an activity that is “not specifically prohibited under Wisconsin’ Managed Forest Land Program as established in Ch. 77, Wis. Stats”. 

The mining company (Badger Minerals) had also proposed to drill a hole in an alternative location where there has is always standing water on the surface of the earth. Due to the increased scrutiny the DNR is fielding about the project as a whole, they told Badger Minerals that the location was not acceptable. Badger Minerals withdrew the request to drill in that location. It now appears they are down to nine holes from the initial ten.

The project is running over the initial time period it was supposed to take. Badger Minerals has applied for a ‘Mineral Exploration License Renewal’ and the DNR is considering that now. If anyone would like to contact the DNR and voice concerns about granting a renewal for this license on MFL enrolled land, you can contact DNR staff at the numbers and email addresses shown below. Remember to inquire about how “mining operations” are not allowed on MFL Land, yet ‘metallic sulfide mineral exploration’ is!

Preston D. Cole, DNR Secretary, 608-266-2621, preston.cole@wi.gov

Ben Callan, Integration Services Section Chief, 608-266-3524, benjamin.callan@wi.gov

Kyle McLaughlin, Waterways & Wetlands, 715-360-6148, kyle.mclaughlin@wi.gov

Michelle Balk, Wastewater, 715-635-4054, michelle.balk@wi.gov

Melisa Yarrington, Stormwater & Erosion Control, 715-359-0192, melissa.yarrington@wi.gov

Stacy Rowe, Endangered Resources, 608-266-7012, stacy.rowe@wi.gov

The DNR website showing all the documents is here: https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/Mines/Projects.html

Virtual Panel: Water Allies of the Wolf River

The second panel is live! Contribute your questions to the YouTube video.

The second panel, Water Allies of the Wolf River, was moderated by Allison Werner. This panel happened the day after the Dakota Access Pipeline was closed down, which was appropriate timing to talk about water protection and activism. We had three panelists:

  • Anahkwet (Guy Reiter), a traditional Menominee and executive director of Menikanaehkem Community Rebuilders. 
  • Paula Mohan, a Political Scientist whose research focuses on intergovernmental relationships between tribes and state and federal governments.
  • Dale Burie, born in Menominee county and president of the Coalition to SAVE the Menominee River. 

Key takeaways:

  • The three panelists shared their unique experiences of protecting natural resources, specifically water, in Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. A key theme of the panel was that anyone can act for protecting the environment—“you are somebody,” you can do something to help movements you care about move forward.
  • Guy has been an earth and water protector pretty much since birth. He grew up walking lightly on the earth and trying to understand his relationship with the natural world. The Menominee creation story starts at the mouth of Menominee River, so when the Back Forty Mine was proposed, Guy started to get involved in water protection. He learned about what sulfur mining was, its impacts on the natural world, put on events, and got people talking about the issue. He helped organize a 126-mile water walk over three days from the Menominee reservation to a Menominee sacred site, Keshena Falls, to the mine site. They walked with intent on the Earth, in a way to think about all of the animals, people, things that would be affected by the potential mine. 
  • Dale spoke of how his Christian beliefs drive his mission to preserve and take care of rivers of Wisconsin. He talked about the formation of his organization, the Coalition to SAVE the Menominee River, which just incorporated this past June. Dale said “it isn’t about us anymore, it’s about the next generations.”
  • Paula got involved in environmental activism in high school when Menominee students were peacefully protesting violent spearfishing opposition by resort owners in Conover, WI. She learned then what it means to be both a water ally and an ally to Indigenous people. She said that “the fact that tribes now have a say in what happens in ceded territory means that that watershed has protection that it would not have had otherwise.” She gave a few recommendations to non-natives that want to get involved in water protection: build strong relationships and allow tribes to lead the way and tell you what they need; learn about the regulatory process and where the weaknesses are; and remember that mining companies cannot compete with the resistance that comes with a hive mind and on multiple fronts. 
  • To get involved—become a volunteer, get vocal through letters, calls, and e-mails, develop a tough skin, and learn how to make this hard work fun. Build relationships with your elected officials from town board all the way to the federal level—they need to know these are issues you care about. 

Panelists

Anahkwet (Guy Reiter) is a traditional Menominee who resides on the Menominee Reservation. He is the executive Director of the Menominee Indian community organization Menikahnaehkem. He is a community organizer, activist, author, amateur archaeologist, lecturer, and member of the Menominee Constitutional Taskforce. Anahkwet has organized many events to uplift communities and demonstrated the richness of Menominee culture. He has lectured at Universities on the connection Menominee Indians have to the Menominee River. He has also written articles for Environmental Health News and others. Anahkwet is an advocate for indigenous people everywhere. When Anahkwet isn’t working you’ll find him enjoying time with his wife and children.

Paula Mohan is a Political Scientist whose research focuses on intergovernmental relationships between tribes and state and federal governments and best to enhance tribal sovereignty within those relationships. She currently teaches in the American Indian Studies program at UW-Madison. Paula is a life-long resident of Wisconsin and grew up in central Wisconsin and later, northern Wisconsin in a community bordering the Lac du Flambeau Ojibwa reservation. She has been an active ally with tribes since high school.  

Dale Burie was born in Menominee and is now the president of the River Coalition. He is also a worship leader, musician, and vocalist.

Virtual Panel: Tribal Histories of the Wolf River

Tribal Histories of the Wolf River

The first Panel, Tribal Histories of the Wolf River, moderated by Tina Van Zile, featured three panelists:

  • David Grignon is an elder and tribal member of the Menominee nation, previous director of the Menominee Historic Preservation Department, and the current Tribal Historic Preservation Officer.
  • Gary Besaw is a tribal member of the Menominee nation, Menominee Tribal legislature, director of Menominee Tribal Department of Agriculture and Food Systems, and the Menominee Tribal Food Distribution Department.
  • Kristen Welch from the Menominee Nation is a community organizer with the indigenous nonprofit Menikanaehkem Community Rebuilders, and a lead organizer for the women’s leadership cohort Missing and Murdered indigenous women. She currently sits on the governor’s council for mental health. 

Key takeaways:

  • The three panelists joined Tina Van Zile to share the significance of the Menominee and Wolf Rivers to the Menominee people, as far back as their creation stories, and what’s at stake for their people, indigenous communities more broadly, and the water. The Menominee and Wolf Rivers have been in Menominee ancestral history for time immemorial. Menominee ancestors are buried on the banks of both rivers, yet both have been threatened previously by the Crandon, and Back Forty mines, and now Badger Minerals exploration. 
  • David started us off talking about the consistent threats to the waterways of his people. The Menominee River is where his people were created thousands of years ago. He told the story of colonization, how the Menominee Reservation came to be, and spoke of oral histories the tribal preservation office made that could be used against mining companies. 
  • Gary spoke of the importance of water to the Menominee people since the beginning of their creation, with creation stories that are over 14,500 years old when Menominee people killed mammoths. Instead of using water as a resource for short-term uses, the Menominee people live with the water, they protect it, and the water protects them back. Water is living to Menominee people; the rivers are alive. 
  • Kristen rounded out the panel by connecting the health of water to the health of the Menominee people and missing and murdered Indigenous women. She talked about the Menominee creation story, where their first grandmother looked over all women and all of the water for them. The woman was the chosen vessel to navigate life from the spirit world to the physical world, which became a gift to Indigenous women to care for the water. Through commodifying water, people lose this spiritual connection to water. Kristen has held water walks that help to restore their relationship with the water, and water ceremonies that help protect the Menominee sacred places of creation. 
  • The panel ended on the message that Indigenous people have sacrificed everything and will continue to in order to save and preserve what is left. The panelists said they want to protect waters now, for their children, to honor their creation story, and for the deer, the fish, the plants, and the water.