Protecting northern waters from sulfide mining

Aug 8, 2023 | Mining

During our 30-year history, River Alliance has stood with water defenders all across Wisconsin to push back against proposals to bring sulfide mining to our state. We’re remembering the big win to stop a proposed open-pit metallic mine in the Penokee Hills ten years ago as well as the 20th anniversary of the purchase of the Forest County land by the Mole Lake Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa, which ended the Crandon Mine controversy. 

Unfortunately, despite past victories, the threat of mining hasn’t gone away; fortunately, neither have we.


Top mining concerns facing Wisconsin

Right now, there are three main mining fronts we are focused on. All are former Aquila Resources projects. In partnership with local groups and two mining coalitions, River Alliance is closely engaged in following these developments:

Gold Resource Corporation “Back 40” project – Menominee County, MI 

Colorado company Gold Resources Corporation plans to explore zinc, copper, lead, gold, and silver deposits in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, north of where Menominee, Michigan and Marinette, Wisconsin straddle the Menominee River. The project would be a massive 80-acre open-pit sulfide mine in an environmentally sensitive area just 50 yards away from the Menominee River and on land that is sacred to the Menominee Tribe.

Green Light Metals – Taylor County and Marathon County

Canadian company Green Light Metals plans to explore mineral deposits in the Bend deposit in Taylor County in the Chequamegon National Forest near the North Fork of the Yellow River. Soon after Green Light acquired the mining rights of Aquila Resources in 2021, the company began to apply for metallic mineral drilling permits. The Bend deposit has copper sulfide ore with some gold and silver. The company has received exploratory drilling permits with conditions from the Department of Natural Resources, though the plans they sent to the U.S. Forest Service are still under review.

Green Light is also eyeing the gold in sulfide and quartz rock in the Reef deposit near the town of Easton in Marathon County near the Eau Claire River. The company has filed a notice of intent to drill with the DNR, and they have begun engagement with Marathon County.

Mining for critical minerals

The newest mining threat to our water comes at the federal level, as economic incentives to mine for “critical minerals” are considered an answer to our need for clean energy. Be on the lookout for an increase in “green washing” by mining companies making false claims about their mining activities. And to be clear, neither gold nor copper nor silver are “critical minerals.” Clean energy is important, but not at the expense of our water.

A recent push to have copper designated as a U.S. critical mineral, which would have implications for mining in Wisconsin, has failed, and the USGS has declined to add copper to the U.S. Critical Minerals List.


Common myths about mining

Time after time, we have witnessed mining companies making false claims about supporting rural economies. The shuttered Flambeau mine taught us that the risks of mining are too high if mining pollutes our water for mining companies’ short-term profits. 

Myth #1: Mining creates jobs

Most contemporary mining jobs are filled by skilled and trained specialists for short-term projects. Mining does not sustain rural economies in the long term and is not a solution to our workforce needs. 

Myth #2: Mining can be done with little or no impact to the environment

There has never been a metallic mine that didn’t pollute water. Even with close scrutiny by state and federal government agencies, sulfide ore mines pollute. The mining industry and its proponents uphold Wisconsin’s Flambeau mine as a model example, but the reclamation of the land has not been successful. Even though the mine is closed, a stream that feeds into the Flambeau River continues to be polluted with copper and is on the EPA’s list of impaired waters.

Myth #3: Mining in Wisconsin is essential to find minerals needed for a green economy

The top sulfide ore mining projects that threaten Wisconsin’s water are focused on for-profit gold mining, plain and simple; they are not critical mineral projects.Wisconsin is a water state, and our clean water is more valuable than trace minerals found in sulfide ore. Our robust outdoor and tourism economy depends on clean water and is more sustainable than the boom-and-bust economics of mining. 


Forming strong coalitions has always been the way to win 

To protect our water, we work in coalition with tribal and local leaders to research, strategize, monitor proposals, and support the people who would be most directly impacted by mining pollution. 

Tribes are particularly powerful leaders in resisting mining. Many mining proposals target land within ceded territory and threaten water that is essential to fishing and growing manoomin (wild rice). By working in coalition with tribal governments as sovereign nations, we can be strong allies in defending the preservation of their culture and traditions. 

Grassroots groups like the Coalition to SAVE the Menominee River are composed of local residents who would be directly impacted by the threats of mining pollution. They are the eyes and ears of the community. They vote for their local government officials. They are the most credible voices to say that no clean water means no healthy families, no healthy economy, no tourism, and no future.  


Get involved: visit the Menominee River this fall and get mining updates

We hope you can join the Coalition to SAVE the Menominee River for its third Water Celebration on Saturday, September 16, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., at Stephenson Island Park at 499 Bridge St in Marinette, Wisconsin. River Alliance of Wisconsin will co-host a paddle event on the Menominee River with the Coalition in the morning preceding the Water Celebration. We will share registration details in our Word on the Stream e-newsletter.

Stay up to date on mining issues in Wisconsin. Subscribe to our mining updates to get action alerts and learn about what’s on the horizon:


– Johnson Bridgwater, Water Advocates Organizer


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