By: Derek Strohl
Wisconsin’s largest private land purchase for conservation and an unlikely corporate buy-out have protected the Chequamegon Bay watershed on Lake Superior and the headwaters of the Wolf River, which flows to Lake Winnebago and on to Lake Michigan.
The Nature Conservancy (TNC) turned over purchase rights of 21,322 acres of land to the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians, whose original reservation boundaries included the land. TNC and the Bad River Band have signed a Memorandum of Understanding regarding the future management of the land. Bad River Tribal Council Chairman Eugene Bigboy said of the transfer, “The heart and soul of any reservation, aside from its people, is its land. This purchase enables the Band to get back precious land that was once thought lost forever.”
The lands included in this transaction are composed of multiple parcels ranging in size from 20 to 3,500 acres and covered mostly by forests and wetlands. They are connected through a network of streams and rivers to the watershed that empties into the Kakagon/Bad River Sloughs and the Chequamegon Bay. The Sloughs play a key role in providing clean water to the Chequamegon Bay, helping to keep the bay healthy and highly sought after by anglers, boaters, bird watchers, and other nature enthusiasts.
Many acres of corporate-owned forest land in the United States have changed hands over the past five years. In Wisconsin alone, more than 90 percent of corporate-owned forestlands have been sold or re-sold since 1997.
On the other side of Wisconsin’s Great Lakes Basin, the headwaters of the beautiful Wolf River have been protected from a zinc-copper mine that has been in the planning and permitting process on and off since 1969. The new owners will withdraw any mining applications.
The Sokaogan Chippewa Community Mole Lake Band, the Forest County Potawatomi Community,and the Mole Lake tribe have purchased the mining project land from the mining applicant, Nicolet Minerals Company (NMC). This victory is being hailed as the result of a unified effort on the part of the tribes, sporting groups, and other rural residents who have historically been at odds with one another.
“This purchase protects the Wolf River, the wetlands and the groundwater of Northern Wisconsin,” Gus Frank, Chairman of the Forest County Potawatomi Community stated. “We all depend on the waters and natural resources of the Northwoods – for recreation, to bring tourists to our State, and, for the Tribes, to sustain our traditions. We’re proud to be a part of protecting this area for future generations.”
Both tribes have vehemently opposed the mining proposals at the site for years. Under those proposals, the mine would affect water and increase sediment in Swamp Creek, which flows into Rice Lake on the Mole Lake reservation, just west of the proposed mine site. The Potawatomi reservation is also nearby, to the northeast.
The tribes said the problems with the current mine proposal are numerous. For example, both the mine and a tailings dump would contain perpetually toxic wastes. The mine and the 16 million tons of wastes in the dump would be neverending sources of groundwater contamination. In addition, the mine waste dump would eventually fail, potentially releasing massive amounts of additional contamination.
*Text for this article graciously provided by The Nature Conservancy- Wisconsin Chapter and Debra McNutt and Zoltan Grossman of the Midwest Treaty Network.