Some question legality of LCO Harvest CampThe Lac Courte Oreilles Harvest Camp next to the proposed open pit iron ore mine site in Iron County is being called illegal by one forestry association, and the county now says it is operating without a permit. But those legal arguments may be more about mining issues, according to one Iron County Board member and the LCO chairman.
By: Mike Simonson/Wisconsin Public Radio, Superior Telegram
The Lac Courte Oreilles Harvest Camp next to the proposed open pit iron ore mine site in Iron County is being called illegal by one forestry association, and the county now says it is operating without a permit. But those legal arguments may be more about mining issues, according to one Iron County Board member and the LCO chairman.
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, leading the Wisconsin Counties Forestry Association to call the camp illegal and asking the county district attorney to take action.
Forestry Association Director Jane Severt says the issue is public access to public forests.
“I mean, our letter has nothing to do with the mine issue, has nothing to do with the issues associated with treaty rights,” Severt said. “There’s just concern with the protection of the public right for access.”
But LCO Chairman Mic Isham says no one, not even armed G-Tac 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.
“Well, that’s what I think it’s about,” Isham said. “I mean, they’re seeing a grassroots effort, a great thing that’s happening and it’s a feel-good thing and 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.
Enter the state: 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.
Jim Lambert, Iron County Board member, 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 acknowledges mining may be the real issue.
“You can make that a harvest camp. You can make that anything you want. But it’s in protest of the mine. That’s exactly what it is. And they said that to us afterwards too.”
LCO Chairman 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.
“That’s managed forest land there of which we have the right to hunt, fish and gather. But we did get those permits because we do have non-tribal members, dignitaries, all kinds of people coming through the camp right now. So, we wanted to be covered on every base.”
Still, Iron County Legal Counsel Mike Pope and the DNR’s 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. So, he says this effort to have it removed is puzzling.
“It’s beyond what I can even fathom. 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.”
Repeated calls by Wisconsin Public Radio to the Iron County Forestry Department were not returned. The radio network was told Forest Director Joe Vairus was in meetings.
But the push to remove the Harvest Camp may come to a head this week. The Forestry Committee has put it back on its agenda for today.
Wisconsin Public Radio can be heard locally on 91.3 KUWS-FM and online at www.wpr.org.