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Iron County Board to decide on charges for harvest camp

The Iron County Board will decide today whether to authorize its district attorney to press civil and criminal charges against the Lac Courte Oreilles Harvest Camp -- which board members say would mean, at the very least, evicting people at the camp.

Harvest camp
(Gary Meader / gmeader@duluthnews.com)

The Iron County Board will decide today whether to authorize its district attorney to press civil and criminal charges against the Lac Courte Oreilles Harvest Camp -- which board members say would mean, at the very least, evicting people at the camp.

The Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa has established a camp of 25 to 30 wigwams a mile or more from the Northwestern Wisconsin site where Gogebic Taconite is exploring at a proposed mine site. LCO spokesman Paul DeMain said the members of the camp will stay, even if they're served an eviction notice.

"We are not going to leave until the tribe tells us to stand down," he said. "That could come at any time or it could be years from now."

In May, the LCO Harvest Camp got approval from the Iron County Forestry Committee for a one year, special land-use permit. But the committee not only reversed itself last week but also voted to prosecute the harvesters. That move would need full County Board approval, which will meet Tuesday.

Democratic state Sen. Bob Jauch said it's time to step back and begin talks.

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"Without having to go to court. Without having to threaten," Jauch said. "Without implying somehow this site is harboring eco-terrorists."

But Republican state Sen. Tom Tiffany wrote a letter to Iron County saying the camp is illegal. Tiffany says county forest land regulations allow camping only for two weeks.

"When people come up to Iron County now, they're going to say, 'Well, I don't want to go to that area where the squatters' village is.' So that is suppressing people from being able to utilize the county forests as they should be able to," Tiffany said. "The squatters should do the right thing and leave the property because they've been there for more than two weeks."

LCO contends that the Treaties of 1837 and 1842 give them the right to hunt, fish and gather on land it ceded to the state in the 19th century. LCO says 1,500 people visited the harvest camp in its first two months.

Gogebic Taconite is doing exploratory drilling in Iron and Ashland counties in the Penokee Range south of Ashland.

Wisconsin Public Radio is heard locally on KUWS-FM 91.3 and online at wpr.org .

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