Campsite at the Upper Peninsula's Trap Hills

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Michiganders Ask Senator Stabenow to Keep the U.P. Wild

Members of a 400-group coalition call on the Senator during her Upper Peninsula tour to introduce legislation designating four areas as federal Wilderness.

By ELPC consultant Kelly Thayer

On an especially sunny Monday afternoon in early August, Wilderness advocates in Michigan’s Western Upper Peninsula agreed the most important place to be was indoors at a local hotel in Houghton. The draw? None other than U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, at a public event hosted by the Houghton County Democratic Party.  

The gathering presented an opportunity for local member organizations in the Keep the U.P. Wild coalition to call on Sen. Stabenow to introduce legislation designating four areas of the Ottawa National Forest in the Western U.P. as federal Wilderness.  

Voices for Wilderness 

The coalition and its nearly 400 member organizations are working diligently to urge Senator Stabenow, as Chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, to introduce Wilderness legislation. 

Keep the U.P. Wild Members meet with U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow to discuss federal Wilderness designation and other issues. (From left) Friends of the Land of Keweenaw (FOLK) Vice President Catherine Andrews; FOLK President Linda Rulison; ELPC’s Kelly Thayer; Stabenow; Becky Darling, a member of the public; and Horst Schmidt, events vice-chair of the Houghton County Democratic Party and president of the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition. Click to enlarge.

Advocates explained that the initiative would create three new national Wilderness areas – the Ehlco area, the Trap Hills, and Norwich Plains – of more than 50,000 near-contiguous acres adjacent to the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park. A fourth area would add approximately 2,000 acres to the Sturgeon River Gorge Wilderness to create a total contiguous Wilderness area of more than 17,000 acres.  

Nearly half the comments from about three dozen attendees at the event along the waterfront in downtown Houghton called for creating the four new Wilderness areas. Proponents pointed to the many benefits that flow from Wilderness protection, including the establishment of mature forests, increased biodiversity, and intact wildlife corridors. And they heralded the sustained economic boost that Wilderness can provide by enshrining special forms of recreation like hiking, camping, fishing, hunting, birdwatching, kayaking, canoeing, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing.  

Collectively they spoke of ensuring these rare and beautiful places stay pristine for our use, enjoyment, and spiritual rejuvenation – both today and for generations to come.  

Building Climate Resilience 

Representatives of the Keweenaw Youth for Climate Action, a student activism group at Michigan Technological University, delivered a powerful plea to Sen. Stabenow for Wilderness protection as a key step to combat climate change, whose impacts they said weigh heavily on their generation.

Keweenaw Youth for Climate Action called for Wilderness protection as a key step to combat climate change. (From left) Elise Rosky, Stabenow, Gabriel Ahrendt, and Janelle Freeman. Click to enlarge.

Moved by the group’s message, Sen. Stabenow offered a heartfelt apology for the burden they are inheriting from prior generations and cited her efforts to foster climate resiliency. 

Interest in and support for protecting these areas as Wilderness continues to grow. And coalition members look forward to working with Sen. Stabenow to leave a lasting legacy of Wilderness protection and tangible hope in an era marked by rapid climate change before she retires after more than two decades in Congress at the end of 2024. 

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Longtime Michigan environmental mainstay Kelly Thayer serves as consultant on ELPC’s Keep the U.P. Wild and Power Plants to Parklands projects.