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Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Prominent U.P. environmental groups merge

In September 2016, friends of Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP) and the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition (UPEC) gather at the historic Peter White Camp as the planned merger of the two environmental groups is announced, creating the Mining Action Group within UPEC. (Photo courtesy UPEC)

By Michele Bourdieu
With information from Save the Wild U.P. (now Mining Action Group) and the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition 

MARQUETTE -- Two of the most respected environmental organizations in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula have joined forces! Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP) and Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition (UPEC) recently completed a year-end merger, resulting in the formation of a Mining Action Group (MAG) within UPEC. The merger became effective on Jan. 1, 2017.

"This merger brings together five decades of leadership and grassroots effort," said Horst Schmidt, UPEC president. "We are now truly speaking with 'One Voice' to protect the environment of the Upper Peninsula. We could not have done it without the dedication of board members of both groups."

Kathleen Heideman, SWUP’s outgoing president, said the two groups have joined to create an active, far-reaching and inclusive environmental advocacy group for the U.P.

"We are combining our strengths and building on our cooperative efforts to protect clean water, healthy ecosystems, and wild places," Heideman explained. "This transformation enables members of the Mining Action Group to remain focused on the grassroots work of defending Upper Michigan's clean water and wild places from the threat of sulfide mining. We're not getting bigger, we're getting better."*

Concerned citizens are encouraged to support the work of the Mining Action Group by becoming members of the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition.*

Save the Wild U.P.'s activism

According to Alexandra Maxwell, SWUP’s outgoing executive director, SWUP's activism took many forms during the past year.

"From the first hours of 2016 until the last, we worked tirelessly opposing Aquila’s Back Forty proposal for an open-pit sulfide mine and mill on the bank of the Menominee River," Maxwell said. "We hosted forums to discuss the proposed mine, held trainings for concerned citizens, facilitated a red-flag review by the Center for Science in Public Participation, prepared evidenced-based comments for the DEQ, and more."

Poster for one of the forums on the Back Forty mining proposal held by Save the Wild U.P. last year. Front 40 is a citizens' group working with SWUP on educating the public about the dangers of sulfide mining. (Poster courtesy SWUP) 

"We also worked to raise awareness about wetlands and wildlands threatened by the controversial County Road 595 proposal; we hosted cultural events and boots-on-the-ground experiences including musical events and poetry readings, opportunities to explore wetlands, waterfalls and native plant habitats; and we participated in a U.P. Environmental Stakeholder Group in order to provide meaningful input on sulfide mining permits to Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality," Maxwell added.

Even before 2016, Maxwell and Heideman worked on collaboration with other community groups to gain support for their work, and the recent merger with UPEC is the most recent development in that effort.

During SWUP's December 2015 gala fundraiser in Marquette, Heideman and Maxwell spoke to supporters about working with various other groups concerned about conservation and environmental protection:

During the December 2015 Save the Wild U.P. fundraiser in Marquette, SWUP President Kathleen Heideman and Executive Director Alexandra Maxwell (foreground), speak to supporters about their environmental work on mining and mineral lease issues, water and land protection -- and collaboration with other community organizations and concerned individuals. (Video by Keweenaw Now)

At that same fundraiser, SWUP welcomed noted New York filmmaker Louis Galdieri, co-producer of the film 1913 Massacre (about the Italian Hall disaster), who has taken a personal interest in current U.P. mining issues since visiting the area for the making of that film and has written about these issues on his blog.**

Filmmaker Louis Galdieri -- guest speaker at the December 2015 gala fundraiser for Save the Wild U.P. -- speaks about the importance of saving what is left of the wild and protecting it from unsustainable, destructive industrial development such as mining. (Video by Keweenaw Now)**

Founded in 2004, SWUP has become widely known for leveraging social media and providing hard-hitting public commentary on sulfide mining related permits, most recently on the proposed zinc-copper mine targeting the Menominee River and proposed expansion of the Eagle Mine in Marquette County. MAG activists will continue serving as environmental watchdogs, urging regulators to make wise decisions to protect the natural resources and public lands of Upper Michigan, educating citizens about the risks of sulfide mining and the industrialization of wild lands, reviewing permits for new mineral leases in sensitive areas, speaking out at public hearings, and working collaboratively with regional tribal nations and watershed organizations.

At a "lunch and learn" informative session on Aquila Resources’ Back Forty Project for an open-pit mine near the Menominee River, Save the Wild U.P. (now outgoing) President Kathleen Heideman points out the location of the proposed pit (red circle) and its proximity to the Menominee River.  (Keweenaw Now file photo)

Following the merger, the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition will maintain its focus on environmental education and advocacy for U.P. wild lands. The Mining Action Group, operating as a semi-autonomous arm within UPEC, will carry on Save the Wild U.P.’s legacy of informed grassroots activism.

SWUP leaders Steven Garske, Kathleen Heideman, Alexandra Maxwell, and Jon Saari will form the initial MAG team within UPEC.***

Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition: education, grants, culture changes

According to Jon Saari, who has served in leadership roles with both organizations, UPEC's perspective is broader and more historical.

"U.P. environmental groups have vacillated about the best way to do our work," Saari said. "The Hard Power wing pushes lobbying, watchdogging government and industry, relentless pursuit in crisis mode, while the Soft Power wing stresses public education, strategic grant giving, and long term cultural changes. SWUP is more in the former tradition, UPEC in the latter. Now the two approaches will be combined in one organization."

Jon Saari, right, speaks during the UPEC-SWUP event last September at the Peter White Camp. (Photo courtesy UPEC)

As a member-based organization, UPEC has been helping to protect the U.P.’s great places since 1976; activities focus on community outreach through a quarterly newsletter, the annual Celebration of the U.P. event, and grant programs in environmental education and community conservation.

"UPEC awarded $34,000 in grants in 2016," said UPEC President Horst Schmidt, "and going forward we want to enhance our presence and partnerships U.P.-wide."

UPEC's biggest annual event is "Celebrate the U.P." -- usually held each year in March at various locations. In March 2016 the event was held at the Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College and included tribal representatives among the organizers and guest speakers.

During the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition's annual "Celebrate the U.P." event, held on March 19, 2016, Jerry Jondreau, a member of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community and tribal forester, speaks about Ojibwa history and the importance of water for wild rice. The event was held at Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College in Baraga. (Video by Keweenaw Now)

Connie Sherry of Houghton, UPEC board member and chair of UPEC's Education Grants Committee, welcomes visitors to the 2016 "Celebrate the U.P." event at Ojibwa Community College. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

Linda Rulison, board member of the Lake Superior Stewardship Initiative (LSSI), helped write the initial grant for this group that focuses on environmental education about the Lake Superior watershed. Rulison is also president of FOLK (Friends of the Land of Keweenaw), an environmental group involved with mining, air pollution and climate change issues. A variety of educational and environmental groups exhibit information about their work at UPEC's "Celebrate the U.P." (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

At her 2016 "Celebrate the U.P." exhibit, Carolyn Peterson chats with Connie Julien, president of the local Peter Wolfe Chapter of the North Country Trail and UPEC webmaster, about the moose bones on Isle Royale. Peterson works on the island with her husband, Rolf Peterson, co-director of the Isle Royale Wolf-Moose study. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

Rolf Peterson is pictured here at the Isle Royale exhibit with Nancy Warren of Wolfwatchers, former UPEC president. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

The keynote speaker at the 2016 "Celebrate the U.P." was Trevor Thomas, a professional blind hiker, who told his inspiring story of adapting to blindness so that he can still enjoy outdoor activities and the natural places he loves, with the indispensable help of his guide dog.

At UPEC's 2016 "Celebrate the U.P." event, keynote speaker Trevor Thomas, professional blind hiker, speaks about how he reacted when he first learned he was going blind and wondered how he would ever be able to continue the extreme outdoor sports he loved. (Video by Keweenaw Now)

Thomas said his dog, Tennille, while accompanying him on hikes, is able to point out things that might hurt him.

"Positive reinforcement is all she needs," he said.

Following his talk, blind hiker Trevor Thomas answers questions from some members of the audience while his guide dog, Tennille, takes a rest. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

Thomas explained he works as a brand ambassador for multiple outdoor manufacturers. In addition to help from his guide dog, he uses his cell phone technology while hiking.

"I keep track of cadence -- walking speed -- that gives me distance, and I can match distances with the directions that are in my phone," he said.

Thomas also noted he would like to see braille signs on easy and moderate trails -- especially for people blind from birth who can't trace the alphabet on signs.

During the supper served by Keweenaw Bay Indian Community members, several people commented that they were very inspired by Thomas's talk.

Marjorie Johnston said she thought both Trevor and his dog were great.

"I'm amazed at what he does, but I'm also amazed at the training of the dog," Johnston said.

Founded in 1976, the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition’s purpose remains unchanged: to protect and maintain the unique environmental qualities of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan by educating the public and acting as a watchdog to industry and government. UPEC is a nonprofit, registered 501(c)(3) organization. For more information, call 906-201-1949, see, visit their Facebook page, or contact:

The UPEC Mining Action Group (MAG) is a grassroots effort to defend the clean water and wild places of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula from the dangers of sulfide mining -- previously known as Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP). Contact the UPEC Mining Action Group at or call (906) 662-9987. Learn more about the Mining Action Group at or follow MAG’s work on Facebook or Twitter. 

Editor's Notes:

* Read more about the merger and see more photos in UPEC's Fall 2016 Newsletter. Visit the UPEC Web site for more information. See also UPEC's Winter 2016-17 Newsletter.

** Click here to read Louis Galdieri's complete speech at the SWUP gala fundraiser.

*** Click here for news from the Mining Action Group (formerly Save the Wild U.P.).

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