Do you Wanna Save the Wild UP? Join our Intern Corps!

We are delighted to announce our search for three superstar interns to join Team SWUP starting in the Winter 2014 NMU school semester.

Save the Wild U.P. is at the forefront of protecting our environment and unique culture while promoting sustainable economies. We’re calling for a federal corruption investigation of state mining regulators, tracking new mining developments, educating the public on the hazards of sulfide mining — and hosting free hikes, picnics, concerts and more to celebrate the wonderful wild U.P.!

Update: Our Winter 2014 Internship Application is now closed. Stay tuned for announcements on our Summer and Fall 2014 Intern Corps!

Rio Tinto Targets Clean Water Advocates in Wisconsin

by Laura Gauger, Legal Affairs Coordinator, Wisconsin Resources Protection Council, October 30, 2013

Back in 2007 the Wisconsin Resources Protection Council (WRPC; Tomahawk, Wisconsin) embarked on a mission to hold Flambeau Mining Company (FMC) accountable for water pollution problems caused by the company’s Flambeau Mine near Ladysmith, Wisconsin. FMC, at one time managed by Kennecott Minerals (Salt Lake City, Utah) is a wholly owned subsidiary of Rio Tinto (London, UK).

This project was never just about us here in Wisconsin … it was about trying to help clean water advocates in the entire Great Lakes region and beyond protect their own waters from adverse impacts linked to sulfide mining operations.

As you know, the mining industry has held up the Flambeau Mine to YOU, the people of MinnesotaMichiganWisconsinAlaska and who knows where else around the world as an example of “environmentally responsible mining” in efforts to convince you to “let them in” and mine in YOUR communities. Our lawsuit was meant to bring out the facts about the serious pollution problems at the Flambeau Mine site and thereby debunk the myth of the “environmentally responsible” Flambeau Mine and give you ammunition to use in your own battles.

We scored a partial victory in 2012, when we took FMC to federal court over violations of the Clean Water Act and the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin ruled, among other things, that the company had indeed violated the Act on numerous counts at the Flambeau Mine site.

Unfortunately, however, FMC appealed the decision, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit proceeded to let the mining company “off the hook.” The Court remained silent on whether or not FMC had violated the Clean Water Act. Instead, they ruled that the mining permit issued to FMC by the State of Wisconsin “shielded” the company from prosecution and that we therefore could not enforce the Clean Water Act against FMC (even though the company had indeed violated the Act, as determined by the U.S. District Court).

In the process, no one was held accountable for the fact that the Flambeau Mine has polluted a tributary of the Flambeau River to the point where theWisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has recommended to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that the stream be listed as “impaired” for copper and zinc toxicity linked to the mining operation. And absolutely NOTHING has been done about the high levels of toxins (most notably manganese) in the groundwater at the mine site. You see, groundwater pollution at mine sites in Wisconsin has been legalized by the Wisconsin DNR and State Legislature (see NR 182.075, Wisconsin Administrative Code), so we could not argue that point in either state or federal court.

The latest twist is that FMC, owned by one of the wealthiest multinational mining corporations in the world (Rio Tinto), is “going after” WRPCLaura Gauger and their fellow plaintiff (Center for Biological Diversity; Tucson, Arizona) to recover various “costs” the company accrued in the lawsuit … to the tune of $157,000.

Our lawyers are fighting the dollar amount demanded by FMC, but it appears we will be required to pay FMC/Rio Tinto many thousands of dollars.

Stay tuned.



Kick-off celebration of U.P.’s Trap Hills huge success

BERGLAND — On Sunday, August 18th, the Trap Hills Conservation Alliance (THCA) and Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP) hosted an inaugural day of events celebrating the Trap Hills, a rarely-visited scenic area featuring stunning views, at the Bergland Township Park.

Participants traveled from places as near as Wakefield and as far as Big Bay, Houghton, and Duluth for the event. Nearly 30 hikers, ages 5 and up, enjoyed guided hikes on the North Country Trail and the Cascade Falls Trails north of Bergland. Wisconsin folksinger Skip Jones played tunes inspired by nature and labor history as hikers enjoyed a free picnic lunch from local businesses.

Nona Trealoff of SoulsShine in Hudson, Wisc. led a blessings ceremony on the shore of Lake Gogebic prior to the hike. Said Margaret Comfort, president of SWUP, “The Trap Hills are indeed a blessing to behold! We are proud to host this free day of events in conjunction with the Trap Hills Conservation Alliance, as we seek to educate the public and introduce them to the splendor of this truly magical place.”

Two hikes, led by botanist Steve Garske and geologist and retired Ottawa National
Forest wilderness ranger Doug Welker, featured 40-mile views from the edge of a spectacular rock bluff, a trip to Cascade Falls, and a vista that included a 350-foot sheer cliff, the highest in Michigan.

As Welker noted, the Trap Hills are perhaps the most spectacular and fascinating of Michigan’s largely-undiscovered secrets. With high rock bluffs, seemingly endless views, remote and relatively pristine areas, Wild and Scenic Rivers, 50 miles of the North Country National Scenic Trail (NCT), numerous other trails including the Pioneer Multi-use Motorized Trail, and a long historic and prehistoric copper mining history (interpreted at Old Victoria and in area museums), it’s hard to find such a concentration of special places and recreational opportunities anywhere.

“That’s why some of us are working to get the Trap Hills designated as a federal National Recreation Area (NRA), to protect special areas, increase and promote recreational opportunities, and bring more recreation-related dollars into the local economy. Done right, it could be a win-win opportunity for the variety of diverse groups who would have a stake in both developing and protecting this area,” said Welker.

Steve Garske, local botanist and board member of Save the Wild U.P., said, “A Trap Hills National Recreation Area would help protect the beautiful Western U.P. and contribute to a sustainable economy for the region as well.”

SWUP Executive Director Alexandra Thebert agreed. “Many people who live just a few minutes away have never known about the Trap Hills. We’re dedicated to protecting the Trap Hills for future generations — and glad this will include even more hikes, cook-outs, and educational events!”

Assistant Surveyor and SWUP Advisory Board Member Richard Sloat added, “I’ve lived in the Western U.P most of my life, I have visited the Porkies but I had no idea an area of such beauty and geologic diversity as the Trap Hills area existed. Why? Nobody told me.”

Doug Welker can be reached at for more information on the North Country Trail or to get involved in crafting a National Recreation Area proposal.

A primer on the Trap Hills is available at http://

Save the Wild U.P. is a grassroots organization focused on preserving the U.P.’s unique cultural and environmental resources. Visit for more information and to get involved.

“Nonprofit” jointly created by regulators and industry execs heads to court Thursday

MARQUETTE — On Thursday, a nonprofit corporation set up by Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) regulators and mining industry executives, the Northern Michigan Geologic Repository Association (NMGRA), will appear in Circuit Court in Marquette claiming that it is not a public body and therefore is not subject to public scrutiny under the Freedom of Information Act in response to requests for financial information.

In 2008 high-ranking State officials directly charged with enforcing mining safety and environmental regulations formed the Northern Michigan Geologic Repository Association as a ‘non-profit’ corporation while Rio Tinto was in the process of planning and constructing Eagle Mine. The NMGRA Board of Directors features Rio Tinto and Bitterroot Resources mining executives in addition to DEQ officials.

The Northern Michigan Geologic Repository Association is intended to fund and operate a “core shed” — a warehouse dedicated to storing mineral core samples which is a function of the Office of Geologic Survey according to Michigan law. As a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization, the contributions the Northern Michigan Geologic Repository received from individuals and corporations, including over $32,000 from Rio Tinto in 2012, are fully tax-deductible.

While Rio Tinto executives assisted in the formation of the NMGRA with state regulators, Rio Tinto constructed a 10 megawatt substation — 400% the power previously existing in Big Bay — to electrify a core shed adjacent to the Eagle Mine site. Once the power infrastructure had been installed, the core shed was removed, and Eagle Mine permit was granted a minor modification without due process or public participation.

Jana Mathieu, the attorney suing NMGRA to disclose their financial information said: “The murky facts surrounding the Northern Michigan Geologic Repository Association exemplify the need for the Freedom of Information Act and the purpose for which it was enacted: to shine a light on the actions of government officials which directly impact the citizens whom they purport to represent.”

Local attorney Michelle Halley, who challenged the Eagle Mine’s permits in court, says the public deserves to better understand the NMGRA’s funding. “The MDEQ’s partnership with corporations demonstrates its inappropriate relationship with the mining industry. The MDEQ’s motto of ‘the industry is our customer and we trust them’ is plain wrong. MDEQ’s job is to regulate the industry, not form partnerships with them — they’ve got it wrong, again,” said Halley.

“It can’t be overstressed how valuable these rock core samples are — to both the mining industry and the State of Michigan. The cores are key to understanding the safety of the proposed mine, the valuation of the proposed mine, and the toxic cocktail of heavy metals that will soon be raining down on Marquette County, when the mine’s exhaust vent stack begins spewing unfiltered mining dust into our clean air. Further, as the TWS is currently permitted, Eagle Mine will discharge over 500,000 gallons of water that will flow into the East Branch of the Salmon Trout River. That’s why, from the beginning, public access to information has been denied, and the core samples have been kept from scrutiny,” said Kathleen Heideman, Save the Wild U.P. vice president.

“The collaboration with mining executives for the creation of a non-profit in order to accomplish state mandates by a high level state of Michigan manager is classic regulatory capture: when an agency is captured to operate for the benefit of a private entity and no longer functions in the state’s best interests. We must end this regulatory fiasco,” said Jeffery Loman, former federal oil regulator and Keweenaw Bay Indian Community tribal member.

“I find it interesting that NMGRA would bring in the same high-powered downstate law firm on a simple Freedom of Information Act issue that Rio Tinto hired to run interference for the MDEQ in the Concerned Citizens of Big Bay’s administrative law case over the permitting of electric lines for Eagle Mine. It almost makes you think they have something to hide,” said Gene Champagne of Concerned Citizens of Big Bay, a grassroots group which has been active in monitoring regulatory oversight of Part 632, the legislation governing non-ferrous mining in Michigan.

“It’s in the best interests of Michigan taxpayers and workers that state regulators are doing their jobs of watching the mining industry, not holding hands with its executives. That is why we are also calling for a federal investigation of this so-called nonprofit,” said Margaret Comfort, president of Save the Wild U.P.

On June 8th, Save the Wild U.P. joined with Concerned Citizens of Big Bay and others calling for a federal corruption investigation of the mining industry and Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. Save the Wild U.P. is a grassroots environmental organization dedicated to the preservation of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan’s unique cultural and environmental resources.

Citizens rally, demand corruption investigation of collusion between state regulators and mining industry

MARQUETTE —  Local residents, including KBIC tribal members, Concerned Citizens of Big Bay, and Save the Wild U.P., rallied at a joint press conference on Saturday June 8th, calling for a corruption investigation related to activities of an unusual ‘non-profit’ corporation, the Northern Michigan Geologic Repository Association (NMGRA), based in Marquette County.Nearly two dozen citizens spent Saturday afternoon in the Michigan DEQ parking lot, holding hand-lettered signs that outlined corruption concerns, speaking with locals driving by, participating in a question-and-answer session, and reviewing the murky facts surrounding NMGRA.

While Rio Tinto was in the process of planning and constructing the mine at Eagle Rock, high-ranking State officials directly charged with enforcing mining safety and environmental regulations formed the Northern Michigan Geologic Repository Association as a ‘non-profit’ corporation. The NMGRA Board of Directors features Rio Tinto and Bitterroot Resources mining executives alongside DEQ officials. At the same time, these state officials were failing to enforce environmental and safety regulations enacted to protect the health and well-being of U.P. citizens.Rio Tinto claimed it needed a 10 megawatt substation and miles of private power lines to electrify the core shed adjacent to the Eagle Mine site. However, once the power had been installed, the core shed was deemed unnecessary, and Eagle Mine was electrified instead — a bait-switch move that sidestepped permitting, due process, and public participation.

“The citizens of Michigan have consistently been denied access to information with regard to this so-called non-profit. Today we are pulling back the veil of secrecy,” explained attorney Jana Mathieu, who filed requests for information related to NMGRA which went unanswered.

Jeffery Loman, KBIC tribal member and former federal oil regulator, led the group on a walking tour of a large cinder block warehouse building located nearby, identified by signage as a “State Warehouse.” The property is actually leased by the nonprofit Northern Michigan Geologic Repository Association, and serves as its core shed, housing valuable core samples. Local workers report seeing only Rio TInto vehicles accessing the warehouse.

“This core shed symbolizes Rio Tinto’s end-run around Part 632, the legislation governing non-ferrous mining in Michigan,” said Loman.

“Something smells bad here. Why create a private non-profit to perform a function of the State of Michigan? The circumstances surrounding these dealings between State officials and mining companies look like a bad rash on this administration,” said Loman. “Sunshine is the best disinfectant. Hopefully Governor Snyder will agree.”

“This is a barrel of rotten apples,” said Mary Ellen Krieg, resident of Big Bay.

“As things stand, there’s no plan for any independent review of the quantity, content and grade of the ore removed at Eagle Mine. Essentially, that means the State is allowing Rio Tinto to self-report its income which serves as the bases for the taxes due the State. The DEQ’s Hal Fitch will just take Rio Tinto’s word for it, and in turn, Hal Fitch wants every taxpayer in Michigan to take his word for it,” explained Michelle Halley, an attorney based in Marquette.

“Great place for hiding something. It looks totally neglected. Here’s this big building covered with peeling paint, surrounded by invasive knapweed and erosion gullies — anyone driving by would assume it was a giant meth lab, not a top-secret core shed set up by mining executives and controlled by the Michigan DEQ,” says Gene Champagne of Concerned Citizens of Big Bay, a grassroots group which has been active in monitoring regulatory oversight of Part 632, the legislation governing non-ferrous mining in Michigan. “The more you look into this, the more it looks like either incompetence or fraud or even both.”

“There are serious concerns about the connections between the mining industry and the regulatory role of the state,” agrees Alexandra Thebert, Executive Director of Save the Wild U.P. “In the best interest of all Michiganders, we are calling for the Department of Justice to investigate.”

Save the Wild U.P. is a grassroots environmental organization dedicated to the preservation of the Upper Peninsula’s unique cultural and natural resources.

London Shareholders Meeting Comments – and Rio Tinto’s Response

In April, SWUP Executive Director, Alexandra Thebert, traveled to London as part of of a campaign to bring community concerns to Rio Tinto’s Annual General Meeting. Below are her comments before the board, and a response from Rio Tinto CEO Sam Walsh.

Alexandra Thebert: Thank you, Chairman, for the opportunity to speak today. My question is concerning the Eagle Mine project in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in America.

Our community has been fighting Eagle Mine since the project began nearly a decade ago, which you know because we have sent representatives to your London shareholders meeting for years to address your shoddy environmental protections, sloppy work, and poor work standards.

Mining engineers have said, for years, that this permit was fraudulently issued and the structure of this portal is unsound. I’d like to add that, too, that this located which is located directly underneath sacred land to the native people of this region, who have been living in the area far longer than than 140 years.

As a sulfide mine, Eagle Mine threatens nearby Lake Superior and other major watersheds– comprising over 20% of the world’s freshwater. There is no precedent for a similar mine that does not leak acid drainage. You know this because of your own Flambeau Mine in Wisconsin where your lawyers are appealing a Clean Water Act Violation next week. I’m coming to my question, thank you [in response to heckling].

With the recent reporting of uranium at the site, former federal oil regulator Jeffery Loman states the risks have now increased exponentially, potentially endangering the workers, community, and environment to radiation and radon exposure.

Further, you seek to remove your only air filter from your mine portal– added in response to community outrage upon discovering that unfiltered mine exhaust would be sent directly into our community.

Over 10,000 people oppose this mine in our small and rural community, including hundreds of health professionals and over 100 faith leaders. Your have an expensive and risky project, and we are a very expensive, and growing opposition to your mine as we are fighting to protect our health and environment. We do not plan to stop pursuing you. We will not going to stop suing you until you have left our community — intact.

My question for you is – at what cost to our health and environment to do you plan to continue this project for so-called “value” for your shareholders? Thank you.

Chair Jan du Plessis: Thank you for those remarks, I think most of those remarks have been made at last years and previous years AGM’s so I think, while I respect the fact that you needed to make them but of course they aren’t particularly new. Sam, would you like to respond?

CEO Sam Walsh: I can comment in relation to that project which, by the way, has state and federal environmental approvals. The mine operates or the project operates at the highest standards of environmental management and also community engagement. It’s been awarded all of the necessary permits to build and operate the project as originally designed and these permits have been upheld in court.

In 2012 Eagle filled a new air permit application in which we reduced allowable emissions by 80%. And also in 2012 the Eagle partnered with 2 world-known community organizations to implement an independent community monitory program with the Marquette Community Foundation and the Superior Watershed Partnership.

The state regulatory body requires that the company requests an air permit change if there’s any change in the quantity, quality, or composition of emissions, regardless of whether that’s an increase or decrease.

In relation to your comments about uranium, uranium is in fact naturally found. It’s found in very small percentages and this is being tightly controlled by the company.

In relation to Eagle Rock, your comments about that, that is an area that we are preserving. Quite clearly we are preserving the rock outcrop that remains in its natural state and during the last 12 months, we’ve had 50 individuals or groups visit that and we provide free access to that for visits by the tribal members.

I believe we are meeting all standards. I believe we are meeting the requirements. I note your comments.

Stories of Resistance: London Mining Network

Check out this video footage of SWUP’s executive director, Alexandra Thebert, participating in a London Mining Network event held at the offices of Amnesty International!

UK journalist John Vidal of the Guardian moderated a passionate, informative panel discussion, in which Alexandra joined representatives from Arizona, Columbia, Mongolia, South Africa, and West Papua to highlight the appalling labor and environmental records of global mining companies Rio Tinto and Anglo American.

Please help spread the word about this important work by viewing and sharing the video today.

To hear Alexandra’s testimony, start video at 45:18


Gov. Rick Snyder officially declared July 15 Lake Superior Day. Save the Wild U.P. celebrated with Waterpalooza at Mattson Lower Harbor Park. It was our first ever and it was a splash.

For an event that may take as long as three to six months or longer to coordinate, we pulled it off in the two months since I became office manager/outreach coordinator.

Some things on the schedule did not happen and some did that weren’t planned. But it was fun and I am already planning and looking forward to next year.

The board and I want to thank everyone that stopped by to share in the celebration of Lake Superior, to learn more about Save the Wild U.P., enjoy a cold KBC beer and let the kids splash down the water slide. Continue reading

10.000 Trees The Manitou Project

10.000 Trees The Manitou Project

The public is invited to join The Cedar Tree Institute its friends and collaborative partners in planting 10,000 Northern White Cedar trees across Northern Michigan in the summer of 2012. The white cedar has seen a 30% decline in Michigan’s forests and is regarded as a medicinal tree among the Ojibway, Potawatomi and Odawa peoples of Michigan. Its Latin name is Arbor vitae meaning “Tree of Life.” The species is essential to the integrity of this region’s native ecosystem. Continue reading