Keep the U.P. Wild

I love Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where my wife and I own a cabin. While I also love the north woods of Wisconsin, the U.P. is very different. While Vilas County feels light and fun and even somewhat prosperous, Gogebic County just across the border was much more a working landscape. The legacy of lumbering and mining, boom and bust, is much more apparent. The interior of the U.P. can best be described as beautiful desolation. So, when my friend Howard Learner, who is fighting a massive power line that would rip through one of my other favorite places, the Driftless, wrote this piece for his blog on the Environmental Law and Policy Center website I asked for permission to repost it here.

By Howard Learner

I’ve been seeing friends’ photos hiking in Isle Royale and Indiana Dunes National Parks and state parks, and paddling in the Boundary Waters, Sylvania Wilderness and other rivers and lakes. The Midwest’s wild and natural places are, indeed, special places well worth protecting and preserving. ELPC is on it.

ELPC is working with almost 100 coalition partners on the Keep the U.P. Wild campaign to create four new federally-protected Wilderness areas in the Ottawa National Forest in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Here’s some background about how ELPC became engaged in this important public advocacy campaign, and ways in which you can help us succeed on this Wilderness opportunity.

The Wilderness Act of 1964 established the National Wilderness Preservation System to “secure for the American people of present and future generations the benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness.” More than 800 Wilderness areas have been designated since then across our nation.

Duck Lake, Gogebic County.

For example, Congress passed the Michigan Wilderness Act of 1987 designating ten new protected Wilderness areas in the state. There were several areas in the UP that came close to being designated at that time, but were deferred. Over the past 34 years, there’s only been one Wilderness addition in Michigan – Sleeping Bear Dunes in 2014. Meanwhile, Congress has been designating new National Wilderness areas in many other states.

Following the November 2020 elections, ELPC recognized that Midwestern states have a prime opportunity to finally secure valuable new National Wilderness designations for wild and natural areas that have long been considered for this level of federal protection. ELPC’s advocates reviewed past Wilderness proposals and identified key sites that meet federal standards for National Wilderness areas.

ELPC is working with our conservation colleagues to seize this window of opportunity by advocating for three new Wilderness areas and to expand a fourth in the western Upper Peninsula. The proposed new Ehlco, Trap Hills and Norwich Plains Wilderness areas, combined, would create a nearly contiguous National Wilderness area of more than 40,000 acres. Our proposed addition of 2,000 acres of unique pristine land to the existing Sturgeon River Gorge Wilderness area would create a larger 17,000-acre National Wilderness area.

These are exceptional areas, and the ELPC team, with Policy Advocate Tyler Barron on point, is working to protect them. We have good partners, including the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition, Michigan Environmental Council, Groundworks Center, and others. Churches and tourism boards, advocates and academics, environmental protectors, and business groups – 88 groups and counting – have joined together in this mission.

Check out the Keep the UP Wild campaign and please join us and add your support. We have much work ahead in educating policymakers about the importance of adding these four areas in the UP to the National Wilderness System. Let’s protect and preserve the Midwest’s wild and natural places for our recreational enjoyment, for wildlife, and for future generations.

Howard Learner is President and Executive Director, Environmental Law & Policy Center.

Welcome to the 207th day of consecutive posts here at YSDA. Thanks for reading!


Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: