6th Anniversary of the “(Un)Forbidden Zone” of Northern Wisconsin

February 17, 2019 by Barbara With

On Sunday, Feb. 24, people from around the state will gather once again in the Penokee Hills of northern Wisconsin to celebrate what was once designated “The Forbidden Zone” by the state legislature. For the sixth consecutive year, water protectors will snowshoe to the top of the hill at Moore Park Road, land not currently threatened by an open-pit iron ore mine that would have removed the mountaintop.

Flags at the entrance to HELP

In 2011, lawyers for Gogebic Taconite (GTac) were allowed to rewrite Wisconsin mining law. A water protector camp was soon established on public Managed Forest Lands (MFL) in Iron County near the proposed site. Named the Harvest Education Learning Project, HELP was set up by Lac Courte Oreilles Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa to educate the public on the history of the area and the importance of protecting the watershed.

The GTac-authored mining bills SB1 and AB1 passed in 2013, despite overwhelming opposition from the people. In 2014, the legislature enacted another law, introduced by anti-environmental Sen. Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst), that forbade the public from entering certain public lands where GTac was drilling. Water protectors from around the state then gathered in the “Forbidden Zone” and declared their intent to violate the new law to protest the closing of public land. Several attempts to get Iron County Sheriff Tony Furyk to make arrests or issue citations failed.

People continued to gather, hike, eat fry bread and enjoy the hills. Then in 2015, GTac abandoned the project, claiming that mining was not “feasible” because of “excessive amounts of water” that it had apparently “overlooked.”

Paul DeMain and Rusty Buck hold newspaper announcing the departure of GTac. March 2015.

In 2016, water protectors convened again to stay informed of upcoming threats, including a Concentrated Animal Feed Operation (CAFO) that was being proposed in the Fish Creek watershed that flows directly into Lake Superior. According to reports, the CAFO has decided to move operations to Michigan, complaining that water protectors make it too difficult for them to do business in Wisconsin.

Snowshoers headed up to Joker’s Lodge.

This year, Penokee water protectors gather in solidarity with Honor the Earth. On Sunday, March 17, HTE will host “Ski the Line,” a cross-country ski event at the North County Trail Access in Itasca State Park to stop the Enbridge Line 3 tar sands pipeline. Water protectors will convene in Minnesota to establish resistance camps along the proposed pipeline.

“Ski the Line” is an opportunity for the public to join with other participants skiing against the proposed dangerous flow of oil, and to learn about and participate in the resistance that continues to build in Minnesota as new updates about the proposal unfold.


Concerned citizens coming to the snowshoe should meet on Moore Park Road near the old Harvest Camp at noon on Feb. 24.



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