Forestry Committee Pressured to Evict Lac Courte Oreilles from Iron County

December 12, 2013 by Barbara With

On May 8, 2013 the Iron County Forestry department granted LCO HELP host Melvin Gasper a Native American Gathering permit to gather plant materials and tap trees for syrup, and a firewood permit to collect down trees on Iron County forest lands. Both permits are valid through December 31, 2013. Photo: Ros Nelson.

On May 8, 2013 the Iron County Forestry department granted LCO HELP host Melvin Gasper a Native American Gathering permit to gather plant materials and tap trees for syrup, and a firewood permit to collect down trees on Iron County forest lands. Both permits are valid through December 31, 2013. Photo: Ros Nelson.

On December 9, 2013, the Iron County Forestry Committee voted unanimously to recommend that Lac Courte Oreilles Harvest Education Learning Project (HELP) be evicted from the county land they have working on since last spring. The issue will be taken up at the next Iron County Board meeting, Tuesday, December 17, at 6 PM at the Iron County Courthouse.

The tribe and the county have been working together since May on drafting a permit to support HELP. LCO planned to present the next draft of their Scientific Investigation Permit to the Forestry Committee for discussion. What they found on Monday, however, was that the committee voted unanimously to evict them before they arrived, four minutes late.

According to HELP Spokesperson Paul DeMain, the tribe arrived at 10:34 to find the meeting over. “There was no discussion in the minutes, so apparently they discussed the issue before they called the meeting to order at 10:30. They did roll call and established the agenda, which was one item: a vote on LCO Scientific Research Permit. Someone made a motion to evict; it was seconded and unanimously passed. There was no discussion, so they had to have discussed it beforehand, which, according to the letter of the law, is illegal.”

Back in May, the Forestry Committee voted unanimously to work with LCO to draft a land use permit for LCO members and their guests to camp, harvest and do educational research on the five-acre site of the old Plummer Camp on Moore Lake Road. LCO issued Resolution 13-34 Requesting a Land Use Permit for Educational Purposes in the 1837 and 1842 Ceded Territory and according to the official minutes of the May 14, 2013 Forestry Committee meeting, the committee voted to authorize Iron County Forester Joe Vairus to work with Corporate Counsel Michael Pope to write the county permit, which was to be one year in length.

At the second meeting between LCO and the committee, Pope presented the next draft of the proposed permit with the input from the first meeting, but there were a few issues that still needed work.

“There was concern about a 14-day camping limit in the county rules,” said DeMain. “Iron County suggested LCO receive a conditional use permit that would fall under ‘Large Group Gathering.’ LCO maintained that ‘camping’ in this case refers to recreational camping and not the activities of Native gathering rights. Harvesting wild rice may involve staying overnight in a tent, but it’s not recreational camping. We do whatever is necessary to harvest the rice. We don’t go to harvest rice and create a separate notion of now we have to camp. They proposed we move in and out every 14 days.”

Bulletproof Securities, operating illegally in Wisconsin on July 6, 2013. Photo: Rob Ganson

Bulletproof Securities, hired by GTac and operating illegally in Wisconsin on July 6, 2013. Photo: Rob Ganson

In the middle of negotiations, on July 6, Gogebic Taconite (GTac) was caught employing unpermitted Arizona militia Bulletproof Security to patrol Managed Forest Land with semi-automatic weapons where the mining company was drilling core samples. And yet, on July 8, Wisconsin County Forests Association (WCFA) sent a letter to Iron County DA Marty Lipske accusing HELP of being in violation of the County Forest Law:

We are extremely concerned with possible future impacts to Wisconsin’s 2.4 million acres of county forest lands if this type of activity is allowed to continue. 

Signed by President Elroy Zemke and ED Jane Severt of the quasi-governmental non-profit, the letter was not sent to the tribes. “Sen. Bob Jauch had a copy, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel had a copy, 16 people received copies of the letter,” DeMain said, “but not a single tribal attorney, tribal council member, or anyone representing the tribe anywhere in the state of Wisconsin received it.” The document claimed HELP was illegal and urged Iron County to enforce the ordinances.

LCO Harvest Camp supporter outside of the Iron County Board meeting on July 30, 2013. Photo: Rebecca Kemble

LCO Harvest Camp supporter outside of the Iron County Board meeting on July 30, 2013. Photo: Rebecca Kemble

In response, on July 16, LCO Chair Mic Isham sent a letter to Iron County Board Chair Joe Pinardi and Forest and Parks Committee Chair Tom Thompson asking for a meeting with the full board to discuss the permitting process. Based on the WCFA letter and what Vairus later revealed was pressure from the DNR, on July 23, the Forestry Committee abruptly recommended criminal and civil charges be brought against HELP for allegedly violating county ordinances and provisions of state County Forest Law.

At the July 30 Iron County Board meeting, HELP supporters packed the courthouse and the Board voted not to press charges, but instead sent the issue back into committee.

Meanwhile, the DNR was pressed to respond to the WCFA accusations and sent a letter on August 16 signed by Quinn Williams, DNR Natural Resources Section Chief, Bureau of Legal Services:

As with prior issues that have arisen on many county forests enrolled in the County Forest Law program, including Iron County, the Department takes a measured approach to achieving compliance with the County Forest Law program, letting the counties themselves attempt to achieve compliance with the letter and the spirit of the County Forest law prior to utilizing the enforcement mechanisms available to the Department under Wis. Stat. s.28.11.

LCO and the Forestry Committee met again to discuss the parameters of the permit. Eventually LCO Chair Mic Isham notified the committee that the proposed 14-day “Large Gathering Permit” did not comply with the needs of the tribe and informed them that he intended to begin the drafting of the Scientific Research Permit, as authorized by the tribe.

According to DeMain, the draft that was to be presented Monday reflected all of the group’s discussions. “The permit also contained input from several different places. It had the Ojibwe language and cultural phrases, outlining our understanding of our responsibility to the Earth; we also took directly from Iron County’s comprehensive plan and their vision for the use of their public land; there was treaty language used, and quotes from Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the State and Federal Government and National Parks Service. We were in agreement with 95% of the permit when they decided to evict us.”

Iron County Forestry, July 16, 2013. Photo: Barbara With

Iron County Forestry, July 16, 2013. Photo: Barbara With

In related news, at a FEMA Emergency Management training in Madison Tuesday, December 10, Capitol Police Captain Todd Kuschel told participants that he traveled to Iron County on Monday, December 9, to work with local law enforcement in setting up a command post to deal with possible protests.

Kuschel was Sue Riseling’s second in command for many years on the UW-Madison Police force and managed the UW Police response to drunken football crowds before joining the Capitol Police force in 2011. He formerly worked for consulting firm Halcrow CH2M HILL, a private security firm specializing in security and emergency management. A request for comment from the Iron County Sheriff Tony Furyk was not immediately answered.

The Iron County Board meets Tuesday, December 17 at 6 PM at the Iron County Courthouse. The Board will decide at that time whether to implement the recommendation of the Forestry Committee, or, as they did in July, refer the issue back to committee for resolution. DeMain made it clear that LCO and other tribes would not take the matter lightly. “The reason the Iron County Board sent it back to the Forestry Committee the first time was because of intervention from tribal chairs. It’s my guess you’re going to see members of the Chippewa Federation and their legal counsel at that Board meeting. There’s a Chippewa Federation Meeting at Lac du Flambeau that afternoon.”

STATEMENT OF PURPOSE from LCO Scientific Investigation Permit: The purpose of this Scientific Investigation is to gida-wiidabima didakiiminaan jinaanaagadawenjigewaad* through a study of the Opiniiwakiing (Penokee Range) ecosystem to collect data in a culturally appropriate way to assist the parties to the Lac Courte Oreilles v. State of Wisconsin, herinafter LCO Case, in the implementation of their respective management, prerogatives and responsibilities to each other in the protection, conservation and responsible management of the unique forest, water, land, and other natural, historic and cultural resources of the Opiniiwakiing (Penokee Range.)

*You shall be a part of and sit with the land, to be in the presence of aki, the earth in order to seek knowledge through the careful, continuous, and pondering thought and reflection in collaboration of the heart and mind.

July 30, 2013 Iron County Board refuses to convict LCO, sends issue back to committee.

Short documentary about HELP, by Paulette Moore

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3 Comments on “Forestry Committee Pressured to Evict Lac Courte Oreilles from Iron County”

  1. James Richard Bailey December 12, 2013 at 9:05 am #

    This is an excellent article by Barbara With, which I recommend to all who seek further understanding of this matter. The various Wisconsin Ojibwa bands are within their rights to demand ly impacted by it.unlimited access to this property for purposes of scientific research. If the Iron County Board of Supervisors does not comply with this request, I hope that subsequent litigation imposes compliance upon them. This is a matter that concerns all people of Wisconsin.

    • James Richard Bailey December 12, 2013 at 9:09 am #

      Due to difficulty posting with [f] account, the above was interrupted in the process. It should have read ====>>
      This is an excellent article by Barbara With, which I recommend to all who seek further understanding of this matter. The various Wisconsin Ojibwa bands are within their rights to demand unlimited access to this property for purposes of scientific research. If the Iron County Board of Supervisors does not comply with this request, I hope that subsequent litigation imposes compliance upon them. This is a matter that concerns all people of Wisconsin.

  2. storydoula December 12, 2013 at 3:52 pm #

    Reblogged this on Occupy Harrisonburg.

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