Welcome to a New Coalition
By Evan Zimmermann
I’m honored to present this series of articles submitted by passionate defenders of the Great Lakes. UPE.News is the beginning of a collaborative effort between UPEC and Citizens for a Safe and Clean Lake Superior (CSCLS). Each month we’ll reach out to our allies and partners across the UP and the surrounding area to highlight the many efforts underway to keep the environment and culture alive.
We start with a focus on the conflicts that have arisen between mineral extraction and the preservation of wilderness. We believe that it’s possible to move toward the future while respecting the integrity of the ecosystem and all the living beings within it, and we want you to know how this can be done and what challenges stand in our way.
There are rarely easy answers to complex problems, but when it comes to environmental policy, there’s one obvious solution. It doesn’t require any new laws or extra resources. If only our regulators would properly consult with tribal governments. Federal and state regulators need to seek their approval before greenlighting any project with a potential impact on their treaty rights to the land. These treaties are the constitutional “supreme law of the land,” and when we ignore this law, we all lose.
On Indigenous People’s Day, I attended a conference call inconveniently placed at 10AM on a Wednesday where the Michigan DNR invited public comments on giving Talon Metals of Minnesota extraordinary rights to Michigan minerals. The entire public was against it. No tribal governments were consulted by the DNR. Anyone who wanted to speak up for indigenous stakeholders had to find out on their own about a Microsoft Teams call in the middle of a workday and get in line with everyone else. This would be funny if it weren’t so tragic.
I’m pleased to launch this newsletter with a live event with representatives from Honor the Earth, the Tamarack Water Alliance, and other engaged citizens who know more about Talon Metals than the Michigan DNR. You can find us live on 6PM Eastern on November 9th and archived after the event at https://www.facebook.com/upenvironment/live
Thank you so much to Jane Fitkin of CSCLS and all of our eloquent and thoughtful contributors. You give us all hope for a sustainable future.
by Chris Vaughn
Lake Superior is 10% of the world's surface freshwater; all sulfide mines contaminate water; Copperwood would be the closest such mine to Lake Superior in history.
Copperwood is also less than a thirty second drive from both the North Country Trail and Porcupine Mountains State Park, which contains the largest tract of mixed old growth in the Midwest and was ranked last year as "the most beautiful State Park in the country." Ecological offenses aside, the Mine would disrupt this thriving outdoor recreation area with nonstop industrial traffic, subterranean blasts, and air, water, light, and sound pollution.
"Don't worry! It's just talk!"
What hasn't happened yet won't happen ever— a philosophy that holds... until it doesn't. It's true Flopperwood has passed from one failed company to the next without a single copper penny to show for it, but this summer's developments should raise alarm in all our hearts:
1. On July 24th, Highland Copper's market capitalization quadrupled after receiving $30 million from Kinterra (another Canadian company);
2. On July 31st, the Department of Energy listed copper as a "critical material" for the first time ever;
3. Most importantly, forest has been clearcut, wetlands destroyed, and streams forever altered. Future be damned, the project is already inflicting real devastation upon countless sentient organisms.
Apart from the final engineering on their toxic waste facility, Highland has all the permits to proceed. Indeed, they are but a few Canadian investors, a bank loan, and a generous State of Michigan grant away from making this nightmare actually happen. And thanks to environmentalists, such a grant is now more likely than ever...
"On November 3rd, lawmakers passed the bill mandating that Michigan receive 100% of its energy from renewable sources like nuclear, solar, wind, geothermal and hydropower by 2040." (MLive).
Here we must address two sleights-of-hand, as common as they are dangerous:
First, "renewable" may describe sunlight, water, and wind, but photovoltaics, dams, and turbines do not spawn out of the aether — to the contrary, their production demands a multitude of minerals, chief among them: copper. So let's get an inconvenient truth out of the way: the attempted scaling of "green" technologies will require mining the daylights out of Planet Earth.
Second, both the media and the bill itself have conflated energy with electricity. Electricity — what's really being talked about — is a mere 20% of overall energy use; the remaining 80% will continue to be produced by fossil fuels.
Is this really enough to turn the tide? In 2014, top Google engineers renounced their R&D project and declared that all the alternative energy in the world won't make a dent in climate change. Consider that the pinnacle of current offerings, the lithium-ion battery, has an energy density of 1 megajoule per kilogram. Nice! But diesel is 46 times that amount. No amount of hopeful wordsmithing will lead to alt-energy replacing fossil fuels. This is in keeping with history: new energy sources and improvements in efficiency lead not to reduction, but to ever-increasing production (see: Jevon's Paradox).
Thus, well-intentioned environmentalists have become pro-bono lobbyists for massive development projects and are even condoning the expansion of mining — among the most destructive industries on the planet. We must all ask: if extraction, machines, and disregard for the Earth got us into this mess, how is more of the same supposed to get us out?
The words we choose are important. In times of fear, words lobotomize us; in times of courage, we wield the weapons ourselves. Sure, mining and metal processing are responsible for 26% of global carbon emissions— but arguing solely in these terms is like opposing slave ships for running on coal. Do we protect wetlands, forests, and soil because they are carbon sinks? Or do we protect them because they are teeming with Life? The title "green" must either be abandoned for referring to nothing but the emissions of an end product regardless of all that comes before and after, or it must be reclaimed to encompass the entirety of our relationship to the Biosphere.
Let us not shy from difficult, nuanced conversations; they will be made easier by remembering what we stand for. Freshwater seas, old growth forest, and the right of humans to enjoy a moment of peace in Nature — if we don't draw a line around these things, it means we won't draw a line anywhere. In this way, Copperwood is the ultimate litmus test: is Civilization nothing but a suicide crusade for the God of Progress, doomed to wrench up every last ounce of mineral no matter the cost? Or will we find our reflections in Gitchi-Gami?
Like mycelia, our strength is in Connection. Sometimes our hyphae will fuse; other times, division is necessary in order to branch out. But if we continue our efforts, at once separate and united, very soon, a potent mushroom will sprout.
by Steve Garske
The Trap Hills region of the Ottawa National Forest (ONF) is a special place. With its towering forests, crystal clear streams, beaver ponds and meadows, high rock outcrops, and awesome views, the Trap Hills have become a destination for hikers and sightseers from the upper Midwest and beyond. Hikers climbing the Hacking Trail from the end of Forest Road 326 to the top of the Trap Hills escarpment (the highest sheer cliff in Michigan), are quickly rewarded with a panorama of nearly unbroken forest, stretching from Lake Gogebic almost to Lake Superior.
The Trap Hills are also biologically rich and unique. The area supports mature and old-growth northern hardwood and hardwood–conifer forests, ecological communities that are increasingly rare. It is home to an array of North woods wildlife, including white-tailed deer, black bear, fisher, marten, bobcats, timber wolves, beaver, porcupine, red squirrels, and various species of mice, voles and shrews. It provides a home for nesting birds that need interior forest habitat. It also supports a population of state-threatened wood turtles, and at least 6 species of state-listed, rare and endangered plants.
The fact that this place is special is reflected in its regional following of hikers and attempts through the years to get the area protected as wilderness. While the first two organized efforts were led by local individuals and groups, the latest push for wilderness designation for the Trap Hills and three other areas of the Ottawa is being led by the Environmental Law and Policy Center of Chicago. Their Keep the UP Wild website has lots more information on this effort.
So why has the ONF resisted any and all attempts to even recommend the Trap Hills as a wilderness study area? It undoubtedly has to do with the Forest Service’s long-held philosophy that essentially all National Forest lands should be open to “multiple use”, including (and perhaps especially) timber harvest. Due in large part to public pressure to protect the Trap Hills core area during the development of the 2006 Forest Plan, the Ottawa designated this area, Norwich Bluff, and several other areas within the forest as “Special Interest Areas”. This designation affords these areas with some protection, but that protection could quickly disappear with an amendment to the Forest Plan or with the next Forest Plan.
Meanwhile, the ONF recently proposed a massive timber sale for part of the Trap Hills region. The proposed Victoria Vegetation Management Project would extend from the eastern edge of the Trap Hills core area, east to Victoria Reservoir and north to the northern boundary of the Ottawa. To the south it would border the West Branch of the Ontonagon River, a federally-designated National Recreational River. It would surround Norwich Bluff Special Interest Area.
The ONF’s reasoning for not recommending the Trap Hills for wilderness consideration is included in Appendix C of the Environmental Impact Statement for their 2006 Forest Plan. In this document the ONF cites criteria from the Forest Service Handbook in deciding whether these areas qualify as wilderness. These criteria are frequently at odds with the Wilderness Act of 1964.
Reasons given for claiming that the Trap Hills region was “unsuitable” for wilderness designation was that one could hear traffic from Hwy M-64, an assertion that is demonstrably false. But even if this claim were true, it shouldn’t have precluded wilderness designation for the Trap Hills. That’s because the Wilderness Act of 1964 only pertains to the land being designated as wilderness, not the land outside the wilderness boundary. There are many examples of wilderness areas with boundaries that border road corridors (even 4-lane highways). Whether or not it might be possible to hear road traffic within these areas is therefore irrelevant to their eligibility for federal wilderness designation.
Another reason given by the ONF for not considering at least the Trap Hills as wilderness was that it supposedly had active roads. This is also false. The only so-called “roads” that have ever existed in the Trap Hills core area were old horse trails used to partly log the area well over 100 years ago. Since then, these trails have been reclaimed by the surrounding forest and have all but vanished. Even if you can find remnants of them, they are impassable to any sort of vehicle, including ATVs and mountain bikes. Nonetheless the ONF has maintained these old horse trails in their road inventory as active roads.
Another ill-informed reason some have for opposing wilderness designation is that existing access will be lost. However, most of these areas are already managed by the ONF as “semi-primitive non-motorized recreation” environments. Wilderness legislation can be written so that existing roads and the popular Pioneer motorized recreational trail are excluded from the wilderness area and remain open as they are now.
Under “DEFINITION OF WILDERNESS”, the Wilderness Act of 1964 (with amendments) describes wilderness as:
(c) A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain. An area of wilderness is further defined to mean in this Act an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions and which (1) generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man's work substantially unnoticeable; (2) has outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation; (3) has at least five thousand acres of land or is of sufficient size as to make practicable its preservation and use in an unimpaired condition; and (4) may also contain ecological, geological, or other features of scientific, educational, scenic, or historical value.
The Trap Hills /Norwich Bluff region and the other three areas being proposed for wilderness designation easily fit all these criteria. Despite their remoteness and unique features, they are vulnerable to future resource exploitation. They need to be protected for the long-term as federal wilderness.
by Nancy Stencil
Sometimes all it takes is someone sharing a photo that draws attention. “They’re planning a mine here—not a joke.” This photo is worth a thousand words and received one hundred shares on Facebook in a very short amount of time. This photo woke sleeping giants that walk among us for the good. This mining project is slated for this year.
Anyone who has spent time in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan has seen the bountiful beauty, the waterfalls, Lake Superior, and the endless forests. The Porcupine Mountains State Park, especially the Presque Isle scenic area, all resting on the shores of Lake Superior, is absolutely priceless. Why would anyone want to destroy this?
Highland Copper aims to mine under State Park land, under the Presque Isle River, and possibly even under Lake Superior. This would be in the west end of the Porkies. Original plans showed the water to be drawn from Lake Superior for industrial uses. Recently, plans changed to re-routing streams and altering wetlands. I ask you which is worse? They are destroying precious habitat. Lake Superior holds one-fourth of the world’s fresh water… Adding to all this, there is also interest in redeveloping the White Pine Mine, on the east side of the Porkies, and using this for milling the ore and storing hazardous mine waste; forever. White Pine was initially closed around 1995, and there have been many environmental contamination concerns such as tailing basins and brownfields. This is ecocide and no one is taking ownership of this burden, except maybe you and I, the taxpayer. This project will literally “bookend” the Porkies. Picture that, a mine on each end of the Porkies. Please visit the website www.protecttheporkies.com
We know there has never been a sulfide mine that does not pollute. Why are our law makers allowing our waters to be polluted with heavy metals? This is a Canadian based copper company coming in to intentionally, and deliberately destroy our land. Copper is not a critical mineral, and it can be much more easily recycled but this seems to fall on deaf ears due to greed; greedy people that tell us there is no money in recycling. The Department of Energy has placed copper on THEIR critical mineral list, it is NOT on the U. S. Interior’s critical list. This will feed into the lies and make it a political hot potato that will get lost in the rhetoric. Mining companies love this. Here is the full document.
Again, we need to speak up, and speak up now and loudly. The clear cutting for this project has already begun. Old growth forests are being destroyed. It's time to write to the Army Corp of Engineers. Here's the regulations admin email: Regadmin.LRE_REGADMIN@usace.army.mil or verbally: 906.288.2833
or snail mail: 115 Lakeshore Blvd. #C, Marquette, Michigan 49855, Attn: Regulations Admin
The watershed of the Boundary Waters remains threatened
by toxic sulfide-ore copper mining.
by Libby London
Over the past ten years, the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters built a movement that brought Minnesota's sulfide-ore copper mining threat, considered the most toxic industry by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), into the national spotlight.
This year, they achieved the most significant conservation measure to be implemented for the Boundary Waters in 45 years: a 20-year mining ban on federal lands within the watershed of the Boundary Waters.
Unfortunately, this doesn't protect the
entire watershed from foreign mining interests - it only covers federal lands.
State land is at imminent risk. Franconia Minerals, a wholly owned subsidiary
of Twin Metals Minnesota, was just granted approval for exploratory drilling
near Birch Lake to promote a mine UNDER Birch Lake - a beloved lake that flows
into the Wilderness. Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness (NMW) the lead
organization of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, urged the DNR not to approve
this plan. Still, nevertheless, it was approved by the MN DNR on October 30,
This proposal means that by the next paddling season, noises of drilling, blasting, machinery, heavy traffic, and more will drown out the natural sounds of our Northwoods - eviscerating the quiet solitude that makes the Boundary Waters America's most visited Wilderness area.
This dangerous drilling plan is a
flashing reminder to all Minnesota state legislators that permanent protection
of the Boundary Waters and its watershed from sulfide-ore copper mining must
include passage of the Boundary Waters Permanent Protection Bill (S.F. 167/H.F.
Help us push back. We need to advocate for permanent legislative protections and prepare for our crucial legal battle next year - you can help us move these measures forward by getting involved at SavetheBoundaryWaters.org
Dr. Jennifer Pearson and Dr.
Emily Onello and other colleagues summarize their
priority for addressing the proposed sulfide-ore copper nickel (SOCN) mining
project in Tamarack with the statement, “There is no hard and fast science that
has yet proven cause/effect to human health, but rather a ground-swell of
concern by healthcare professionals given the harmful effects to human health
of the heavy metals/sulfates that will forever leach from the mining sites.
Part of the ask has been that this science/assessment be baked into any EA or
EIS moving forward.”
With the context of SOCN mining being considered in water-rich Minnesota, and given pollution resulting from SOCN mining elsewhere, Pearson and colleagues have written about the need for careful scrutiny in examining the associated risks.
“Recent federal decisions to reinstate mineral leases and abort the environmental assessment process have placed our unique and irreplaceable region at substantial risk. The overall health and wellness of this region will very likely be negatively affected by SOCN mining, and economic costs will predictably outweigh benefits. In addition, negative impacts on water, fish and wild rice will likely degrade nutritional and tribal resources resulting in violation of usufructuary rights of tribal communities,” Pearson says.
Dr. Pearson and her colleague Dr. Emily Onello will speak om Thursday, October 5, 2023 about the changing legislative and permitting landscape around permits and leases for hard-rock mining, in particular the effects the changes will have with regard to human, wildlife and environmental health in Minnesota. They will also explain how Minnesota’s health care providers are mobilizing to inform the public about the potential risks of mining to Minnesotans.
In their article Sulfide-ore mining and human health in Minnesota, Pearson and Onello and colleagues point out the, “Inextricable connection between ecosystem health, animal health and human health . . . and the toxic track record of sulfide-ore mining elsewhere,” saying that, “concern for human health must be part of the public dialogue.”
In the same article, Dr. Pearson cites the World Health Organization as listing 10 environmental toxins that are of the greatest concern to human health, and states that SOCN mining like that being proposed for Aitkin County has the potential to release six of these including mercury, lead, arsenic, cadmium, asbestos and particulate air pollution. Sulfide-ore mining also releases sulfates that promote methylation of elemental mercury already present in wetlands and sediments.
Copper-nickel ore frequently contains iron sulfide minerals such as pyrite (FeS2), one of the world’s most common sulfide minerals. The atmospheric oxidation of pyrite ultimately results in the release of sulfuric acid. Under certain conditions, ferric iron (Fe3+) remains soluble in acidic outflows and forms the reddish-orange to yellow ferric hydroxide (Fe(OH)3), a precipitate often recognized as the hallmark of waters containing acid mine drainage.
A key difference between the majority of the copper sulfide mines currently operating in the United States and those proposed for Minnesota is that most are located in the Southwest, a region that receives little rain and snow. Those environments minimize communication between surface and groundwater. In wetter climates like Minnesota’s, surface and shallow groundwater are more vulnerable to the negative effects of sulfide mining. More detail on this issue can be found in the article, Sulfide Mining and Human Health in Minnesota, co-authored by Dr.Pearson and Dr. Emily Onello and other colleagues.
We look forward to having you join us for this interesting presentation. Links to three papers providing more in depth treatment of the issues are listed here:
A green economy can only be built with respect for water and treaty rights.
Recently, an article by the Washington Post asked the question, Is sustainable mining possible? Even in the title of that piece – which asserts that “The EV Revolution depends on it” – it’s clear that the measure of sustainability automakers and mining industry advocates are aiming for is deeply flawed. In this era of climate chaos and global instability, the measure of whether or not we can achieve sustainability of our climate or economy should not be a question of sustaining the highest level of corporate extraction and profiteering, but whether or not our most vulnerable communities will survive and thrive into the future.
Native communities on the front lines of climate change and extractive industry have seen this before with the oil and gas industry. They’ve long borne the brunt of destructive and careless industrial development. A green economy cannot be built on the continued destruction of lands and waters, or by silencing Native opposition. The tiny town of Tamarack in Aitkin County has become one focal point for these conversations about the future, because Rio Tinto and their exploration partner Talon Metals are banking on receiving permits to mine here.
A massive deposit of nickel and copper, bound-up in sulfide ore, sits beneath a wetland on the outskirts of town – a place that is connected to many other places by water – including numerous lakes and rivers that flow into the Mississippi River. This is not just a rural town “in the middle of nowhere” as some people imply. This is Anishinaabe territory, and home to some of the most important wild rice lakes in the world. Native people retain the rights to hunt, fish and gather from these lands, which are also a source of life and livelihood for many other families and communities. A new mining boom would compromise Indigenous rights and livelihoods, because it would put that very land and the lives that depend upon it at risk for generations.
The devastating impacts of mining are not only a concern for Indigenous people, although these frontline communities are most at risk, and are preparing to shape a truly sustainable future. Manoomin, or sacred wild rice, is an indicator of the overall health of waters, lands and our economies. Protecting wild rice and clean water is a climate change solution. Gaa-mitaawangaagamaag-ininiwag, or the Sandy Lake Band of Chippewa, are featured in this article because they are at risk from Rio Tinto and Talon’s development of sulfide ore mines here.
“This area is just too precious to leave to chance. [Just as] the wind travels, toxic air will travel. It will come into the lakes. It will devastate the fish. It will devastate the wild rice. It will.”
— JEAN SKINAWAY-LAWRENCE, SANDY LAKE BAND OF MISSISSIPPI CHIPPEWA, AT LAKE MINNEWAWA.
Sandy Lake is asking other Native communities and non-native allies to join them in calling out Rio Tinto’s land grab, and Talon’s greenwashing – re-asserting that these are places worth protecting. “This area is just too precious to leave to chance,” said Jean Skinaway-Lawrence, chairwoman of the Sandy Lake Band of Mississippi Chippewa. Native and non-native people in and around the mine are becoming more concerned about the risks of sulfide mining in this water rich region.
Click here to read more about the risks of the Rio Tinto / Talon mine and about some of the Indigenous-led solutions to climate change being developed here.