Thu July 18, 2013
Harvest Camp's Legality Questioned By State Forestry Association, Iron County
The county now also says it is operating without a permit. But the legal arguments may be a smokescreen for pro-mining interests.
On May 14, the Iron County Forestry Committee unanimously approved the five-acre LCO Harvest Camp to operate for one year. But no permit has been issued, so the Wisconsin Counties Forestry Association has called the camp illegal and wants the county district attorney to take action.
Among all the legal back and forth, and denials that the controversial iron ore mine is the real issue, several people admit that it is all about pushback against the camp.
Forestry Association director Jane Severt says the issue is public access to public forests.
“Our letter has nothing to do with the mine issue; it has nothing to do with the issues associated with treaty rights,” she says. “There’s just concern with the protection of the public right for access.”
But LCO Chairman Mic Isham says no one — not even armed Gogebic Taconite guards — has been denied access to the Harvest Camp. He says the May 14 Forestry Committee meeting approved the camp and the rest is mining politics.
“They’re seeing a grassroots effort, a great thing that’s happening,” says Isham. “They see that and they’re getting a little scared.”
In fact, Isham says permits aren’t even needed for tribal members since the Treaties of 1837 and 1842 give them the right to hunt, fish and gather on public land in the ceded territory.
The Department of Natural Resources has oversight responsibilities in public forest land, including the ceded territory. DNR Attorney Quinn Williams says they’ve identified issues of concern at the camp, including that a permit has not been issued by Iron County.
Quinn says the camp is not in compliance with county ordinances but changes could be made to fix that. He says for now, the state won’t take action until they see what Iron County does.
Iron County Board member Jim Lambert voted for the permit at the May 14 meeting. Now, he says he’s not sure they even had the power to grant LCO the one-year land use permit because of the state-managed forest law. But in the end, Lambert admits mining is the real issue.
“You can make that a Harvest Camp,” he says. “You can make that anything you want. But it’s in protest of the mine.”
Isham says they can do what they want, but they already have Iron County’s Forestry Committee’s permission for the camp, which allows non-native people to also stay there. But he says a gray area is whether or not this has to go to the full County Board. He says they don’t need a permit for tribal people to stay there while hunting, fishing and gathering.
In fact, the camp plans to expand from five acres to 35 acres so they can harvest maple syrup next spring. Isham says that is also protected by treaty rights in the ceded territory.
“We did get those permits because we do have non-tribal members, dignitaries, all kinds of people coming through the camp right now,” says Isham. “So, we wanted to be covered on every base.”
Still, both Iron County legal counsel Mike Pope and Williams say since no permit has been issued, the LCO Harvest Camp exists outside the law.
LCO Tribal Vice Chairman Rusty Barber says the camp mission is to document and harvest plants while educating people about the value of that land. He says this effort to have it removed is puzzling.
“It’s beyond what I can even fathom,” says Barber. “It’s an educational camp. We use the land in a good way and we’re tied to the land. We’ll always be tied to the land.”
After a week of phone calls to the Iron County Forestry Department by Wisconsin Public Radio, no calls were returned. We were told Forest Director Joe Vairus was in meetings.
But the push to remove the Harvest Camp may come to a head next week. The Forestry Committee has put it back on its agenda for next Tuesday’s meeting.