In the next few weeks, bills will be introduced in both the state Assembly and Senate that will make mining more attractive in the Badger State. It is in direct response to the desire by an out of state company to mine the iron ore still remaining in the rich veins of the Penokee Range in Northern Wisconsin.
Have you ever been to Northern Wisconsin? I have; I lived there for 12 years and saw the poverty and the beauty of the region. Let me tell you about it.
Over 100 years ago, miners and loggers denuded the landscape. They cut down every tree from Lake Superior to the St. Croix River and mined the easily-gotten iron from the ridges. The land was laid bare.
But guess what, now Northern Wisconsin is covered with forests, either planned or naturally occurring and the only signs of mining left in Iron County are the old historical mining towns and the occasional cap of an old shaft. The rest has been restored by man or nature. Another mine, in Ladysmith, which closed in the late 1990s is now a man-made lake that provides recreation for much of Sawyer County.
The beauty is unbelievable. Copper Falls State Park, which sits at the foothills of the Penoke Iron Range that is at the center of the current mining controversy, is pristine with an awe-inspiring waterfall, natural trails and wonderful fishing. The forests are lush and full of wildlife for hunters and nature lovers.
But the poverty of the Northwoods is also unbelievable. Iron County’s unemployment rate is twice the state average and almost all high school graduates of the Hurley and Mercer school districts leave the area for jobs and education to never return. If it wasn’t for hunting, ATVs and snowmobiling, there would be nothing in Iron County at all.
What this area needs is jobs and opportunities for families to live and thrive in a beautiful part of our state. What they don’t need are activists who have never traveled north of the Wisconsin Dells to tell them what is best for them. At a public hearing held in Milwaukee during the last round of mining talks, citizens of Iron, Sawyer, Ashland, Oneida and Vilas counties came to the city and pleaded for jobs, for economic freedom.
Instead, they were met by men in suits who told them they knew better; that a mine in Iron COunty would contaminate the water, kill the birds and bring smog to the air.
This isn’t 1890, mining has become cleaner, safer and more environmentally friendly.
I had the unique opportunity to live about 30 miles from the last open pit mine in Wisconsin – the Ladysmith copper mine which closed in 1997. In the years since it’s closed, the company cleaned the site, put a reclamation plan into place and now the community has a new park, Copper Park, open for recreation.
And contrary to what environmentalists have been saying over the years, the adjacent Flambeau River is continues to be as clean as it is upstream, as it flows past Copper Park. Even the liberal-leaning Federal Judge Barbara Crabb affirmed the Flambeau Mining Company has upheld it’s committment to the Clean Water Act and is not in violation.
Judge Crabb’s ruling referenced the company’s “exemplary efforts to protect the environment during its mining operations and reclamation effort” and that, “These efforts deserve commendation, not penalties.”
Mining opponents should look to the example of the Flambeau Mine and its reclamation, the natural reclamation that Mother Nature has completed across the Northwoods and back family family-supporting jobs in Iron and the surroundign counties.
They need to place the needs of workers, including the impoverished on the three Native American reservations surrounding the proposed mine, before their selfish wants and fear mongering that the world will end if dirt is turned in the Penokee Range.
Wisconsin has a tradition of mining and the state needs to honor that tradition with responsible mining legislation that puts people back to work and respects our environment. To not do so is a slap in the face to our forefathers and waste of the natural resources that lay beneath our lands.