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Mining in the Penokee Range: What’s at Risk

Nature Conservancy Testimony on Risks to Freshwater Resources Associated With Proposed Changes to Wisconsin’s Iron Mining Regulations
January 23, 2013

Proposed changes to Wisconsin’s iron mining regulations in Senate Bill 1 and Assembly Bill 1 will pose serious risks to the rivers, lakes, wetlands, groundwater and other natural resources in the Penokee Range in northern Wisconsin. Link here to read written testimony by The Nature Conservancy in Wisconsin. (pdf 79 KB)

Nature Conservancy Statement on Environmental Risks Associated With Proposed Changes to Wisconsin’s Iron Mining Regulations
December 14, 2011

Proposed changes to Wisconsin’s iron mining regulations will pose serious risks to the rivers, lakes, wetlands, groundwater and other natural resources in the Penokee Range in northern Wisconsin. Link here to read entire statement by The Nature Conservancy in Wisconsin. (pdf 1 MB)

Mining companies have expressed interest in extracting iron ore from the Penokee-Gogebic Range, which extends 25 miles through Iron and Ashland counties in far northern Wisconsin.

The majority of the Range is owned by RGGS Land and Minerals, Ltd. of Houston, Texas, and LaPointe Mining Co. in Minnesota. Together these companies control a narrow 22-mile, 22,000-acre stretch of the Penokee Range from southwest of Hurley to about six miles west of Mellen. The Cline Group, out of Florida, has secured an option to obtain the mineral rights held for this property and has created a subsidiary called Gogebic Taconite (G-TAC) to move forward with the mining of iron.

Any decision to allow mining in the Penokee Range should take into consideration the wealth of water, forest and other natural resources that support timber and tourist economies, nourish tribal culture and provide clean, safe water for people and wildlife.

Why This Place is Special

The Penokee-Gogebic Range consists of two steep, parallel ridges that dominate the local landscape rising 1,200 feet above nearby Lake Superior. The topography of the area and the variety of soil conditions result in a wide range of habitat that supports a diverse group of species and natural communities.

Read the full report about what’s at risk (pdf 2MB). View report

It’s the Water

  • Seventy-one miles of rivers and intermittent streams flow through the proposed mining area, emptying into the Bad River and the eventually into Lake Superior.
  • The surface and groundwater originating from the Penokee Range is the source of drinking water for the municipalities of Ashland, Mellen, Highbridge, Marengo, Odanah and Upson.
  • Portions of many of these waterways—including the Bad, Potato and Tyler Forks rivers—are designated as Exceptional or Outstanding Resource Waters, meaning they are among the highest quality rivers in Wisconsin, having good water quality, providing outstanding recreational opportunities and supporting valuable fisheries and wildlife habitat.

It’s the Wetlands

  • The proposed mining area embodies a large portion of the headwaters of the Bad River watershed, which supports the 16,000-acre Kakagon-Bad River Sloughs, the largest undeveloped wetland complex in the upper Great Lakes.
  • These Sloughs have cultural significance – they support the largest natural wild rice bed in the Great Lakes basin and members of the Bad River Band have harvested wild rice here for centuries.
  • The Sloughs and streams that feed the wetland system like the Bad and Kakagon rivers, and Bear Trap and Wood creeks all depend on surface and ground water that originates in the Penokee Range.
  • The Sloughs are home to many threatened and endangered species such as the trumpeter swan, bald eagle, piping plover, wood turtle and ram’s-head lady-slipper orchid.

It’s the Forests

  • The proposed mining area encompasses nearly 35 square miles of northern hardwood forest, which has been managed for hardwood timber production, including maple and yellow birch, for decades.
  • Because the majority of the land is enrolled in Wisconsin’s Managed Forest Law, it is open for public recreation, including hunting, hiking, and snowmobiling.
  • It links the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest in northern Wisconsin to the Ottawa National Forest in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, connecting a 40-mile stretch of continuous forest cover for wide-ranging mammals like gray wolves and rare American martens and breeding populations of migratory songbirds.

See What Others Say

Wisconsin Land Legacy Report (2006)
The Penokee Range was identified as an important area to meet Wisconsin’s future conservation and recreation needs due to its unique geology; many rare plants, animals and forest communities; and high quality recreational opportunities.

Wisconsin Wildlife Action Plan (2005)
The Penokee Range was identified as an Important Bird Area and a Conservation Opportunity Area of Continental Significance to maintain a large, continuous, climate change-resistant forest.

Wisconsin’s Priority Conservation Opportunity Areas for Wildlife Species of Greatest Conservation Need (2008-2015): Superior Coastal Plain Ecological Map (pdf 1.63 MB)

Priority Conservation Actions & Conservation Opportunity Areas: Superior Coastal Plain Ecological Landscape (pdf 69.8 KB)

Wisconsin Coastal Wetlands Assessment (2000-2001)
The Kakagon-Bad River Sloughs were identified as an ecologically significant coastal wetland site in the Lake Michigan and Lake Superior basins.

National Natural Landmark
The Kakagon-Bad River Sloughs were designated a National Natural Landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior in 1983, recognizing their outstanding condition, rarity, diversity and value to science and education.

Wisconsin’s Wetland Gems (pdf 3.82 MB)
The Wisconsin Wetlands Association named the Kakagon-Bad River Sloughs one of Wisconsin’s 100 Wetland Gems, noting the extensive size and high quality of these Great Lakes coastal wetlands.

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