What to do when our lands are violated – Mining vs The Environment

As a relatively peaceful person, one whose work is to record and report on the beauty of our land, my stomach is churning & turning on a recently learned situation. It is happening in the state of Wisconsin – not the state of my home, but a state that is part of

Frogs Not, Bob Grytten image
Frogs Not, Bob Grytten image

my land – the United States of America. Actually, it’s not my land, for in essence we are but charged as stewards of the land.

And the situation I have learned about begs a discussion about our environment and our rights to destroy it and in the process, bring harm upon its inhabitants, including wildlife as well as people.

Here is the situation…

A mining company has been given permission to proceed with it’s first phase of bringing iron ore out of the ground in Wisconsin. According to reports by those feeling threatened –  “The first phase of the mine alone could release 1.3 million tons of sulfur, as well as mercury, arsenic, copper, zinc, and phosphates (which cause algae blooms and fish kills), into Lake Superior tributaries.”

What’s Being Proposed?

Gogebic Taconite (G-Tac), a subsidiary of  The Cline Group, has proposed a 4 ½-mile long open pit iron ore mine in the Penokee Hills of Northern Wisconsin. This would be the first phase of an eventual 22-mile strip of open-pit mining, stretching from west of Mellen, in southern Ashland County, to Upson, in Iron County. The land is privately-held managed

Rivers Not, Bob Grytten Photo
Rivers Not, Bob Grytten Photo

forest land, 35 square miles of rugged and unbroken north woods habitat, a migration corridor and natural carbon sink.

What’s at stake?

The mine area is at the headwaters of the Tyler Forks and Bad Rivers, which flow north into the Bad River Indian Reservation and empty into Lake Superior at the Kakagon Sloughs, the largest wetlands on Lake Superior and source of wild rice for the Bad River Anishinaabe (Ojibwe/Chippewa) Tribe. The potential mining zone impacts more than 50 miles of streams and rivers, many of them designated trout streams. It is in the recharge zone of the Penokee Aquifer, which many residents rely on for clean drinking water.

I first learned about this when checking out the web site of fellow photographer journalist Dustin Zarnikow. He also has “Radio” listed amongst his Photography and Video activities. His radio interview of three professionals in Geology and Natural Resources is most interesting and chilling at the same time. Check it out.

Yes, I understand the issue of need for resources to produce our cameras, tripods, cars,

Not in My BackYard! Bob Grytten image
Not in My BackYard! Bob Grytten image

and computers. And no, I have not talked with the Mining Company. They have armed Guards at the access areas. Wonder Why?? That’s why I raise the questions. Let’s have the discussion.

Partial background information…

Minnesota and Michigan haven’t seen long-term economic benefits from mining. Iron Range economies are very volatile, with wide “boom/bust” swings in employment depending on world metal prices (currently in a “bust”). Technological advancement has meant steadily increasing productivity and fewer workers needed to mine. The public would not benefit from the mine, since under the new mining law—paid for by $15.6 million in campaign donations by pro-mining corporations—the company would pay zero taxes if they do not make a profit.

 The Hull-Rust-Mahoning Mine on Minnesota’s Mesabi Range Mining would transform the area from forested hills to an industrial strip, with heavy machinery, truck traffic, deep pits, and wasterock piles hundreds of feet high. The recently-passed iron mining law allows the mining company to fill wetlands and navigable waterways with waste rock and reduce the volume of groundwater in the aquifer.

Iron Mining: What’s the Record?

Thanks to a twenty-year grassroots struggle by a coalition of environmental organizations, sportsmen’s groups, and Native American tribes in Wisconsin, in 1998 the state passed a law (signed by then-governor Tommy Thompson) prohibiting sulfide mining in the state until mining companies can show an example of an environmentally safe sulfide mine.

To date, one has never been found. Sulfide mining targets minerals like copper, lead, zinc, gold, and silver that are contained in sulfide ores, which generate sulfuric acid when exposed to air and water. But G-Tac’s proposal is for an iron mine, not a sulfide mine, and thus doesn’t fall under the purview of Wisconsin’s mining moratorium law.

However, iron mining isn’t “safe” either. Downstream from Minnesota’s Mesabi Iron Range, the St. Louis River is polluted with high levels of mercury and sulfates, resulting in fish consumption advisories and a 100-mile-long wild rice “dead zone.” That’s because to get to the iron, a vast amount of overlying rock must be removed, some of which contains heavy metals and sulfides. In the Penokees, the overlying rock and parts of the iron deposit itself are known to contain Pyrite (iron sulfide).

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