Sturgeon River in Michigan's Upper Peninsula

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Howard A. Learner

Let’s Keep the U.P. Wild

Summer is coming to an end, and many of us have enjoyed time camping, hiking, fishing, canoeing and kayaking in the Midwest’s great outdoors.

I’ve been seeing friends’ photos hiking in Isle Royale and Indiana Dunes National Parks and state parks, and paddling in the Boundary Waters, Sylvania Wilderness and other rivers and lakes. The Midwest’s wild and natural places are, indeed, special places well worth protecting and preserving. ELPC is on it.

Protecting Wilderness in the Upper Peninsula

ELPC is working with almost 100 coalition partners on the Keep the U.P. Wild campaign to create four new federally-protected Wilderness areas in the Ottawa National Forest in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Here’s some background about how ELPC became engaged in this important public advocacy campaign, and ways in which you can help us succeed on this Wilderness opportunity.

The Wilderness Act

The Wilderness Act of 1964 established the National Wilderness Preservation System to “secure for the American people of present and future generations the benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness.” More than 800 Wilderness areas have been designated since then across our nation.

For example, Congress passed the Michigan Wilderness Act of 1987 designating ten new protected Wilderness areas in the state. There were several areas in the UP that came close to being designated at that time, but were deferred. Over the past 34 years, there’s only been one Wilderness addition in Michigan – Sleeping Bear Dunes in 2014. Meanwhile, Congress has been designating new National Wilderness areas in many other states.

Following the November 2020 elections, ELPC recognized that Midwestern states have a prime opportunity to finally secure valuable new National Wilderness designations for wild and natural areas that have long been considered for this level of federal protection. ELPC’s advocates reviewed past Wilderness proposals and identified key sites that meet federal standards for National Wilderness areas.

The Areas & The Coalition

ELPC is working with our conservation colleagues to seize this window of opportunity by advocating for three new Wilderness areas and to expand a fourth in the western Upper Peninsula. The proposed new Ehlco, Trap Hills and Norwich Plains Wilderness areas, combined, would create a nearly contiguous National Wilderness area of more than 40,000 acres. Our proposed addition of 2,000 acres of unique pristine land to the existing Sturgeon River Gorge Wilderness area would create a larger 17,000-acre National Wilderness area.

These are exceptional areas, and the ELPC team, with Policy Advocate Tyler Barron on point, is working to protect them. We have good partners, including the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition, Michigan Environmental Council, Groundworks Center, and others. Churches and tourism boards, advocates and academics, environmental protectors, and business groups – 88 groups and counting – have joined together in this mission.

Help Us Keep the U.P. Wild

Check out the Keep the UP Wild campaign and please join us and add your support. We have much work ahead in educating policymakers about the importance of adding these four areas in the UP to the National Wilderness System. Let’s protect and preserve the Midwest’s wild and natural places for our recreational enjoyment, for wildlife, and for future generations.

Howard A. Learner,

Chief Executive Officer & Executive Director

Howard Learner is an experienced attorney serving as the President and Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center. He is responsible for ELPC’s overall strategic leadership, policy direction, and financial platform.

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