Celebrate the U.P.

HANCOCK – The members of the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition generally take on issues of environmental concern, but during their annual Celebrate the U.P. they chose to take a more positive view of what the area has to offer, according to Bill Malmsten, president of UPEC.

During the sixth annual Celebrate the U.P. events Friday and Saturday at the Jutila Center for Global Design and Business, the organization presented talks from various individuals and organizations on topics such as wild rice, special places in the U.P., winter camping and transportation.

“Rather than focus on the environmental problems, we’re focusing on the wonderful things we have in the U.P.,” he said. “It allows us to take on a broader range of speakers.”

The previous five UPEC annual gatherings were conducted in Marquette, Malmsten said, but the Jutila Center provided a very good venue for the event, so it was moved. The group has members throughout the U.P.

Besides the break-out talks, Malmsten said several organizations set up tables to provide information about what they do.

The UPEC also provides educational grants to schools and organizations, which present educational programs for environmental issues for K-12 students, Malmsten said.

Connie Julien, UPEC board member, who organized the groups who had informational tables, said they were all non-profit organizations. Most of them were environmental groups, but the Ottawa National Forest and Michigan Technological University also had tables.

On Saturday, a panel of three speakers gave a presentation about the 50 years of wilderness in the U.P. beginning with the federal Wilderness Act of 1964, which reads in part: “A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”

The three speakers for the presentation of wilderness were: Bill Fink, former superintendent of Isle Royale National Park and Keweenaw National Historical Park; Doug Welker, UPEC board member; and Bob Wild, park naturalist for the Porcupine Mountains State Park.

Speaking first was Welker, who talked about the Wilderness Act of 1964 and what preceded it.

Welker said before the Wilderness Act there were designations for wild places, or primitive areas, but they were created by the forest service, so they weren’t as strongly protected.

“The next thing you know, it’s gone, potentially,” he said.

Welker said President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed the Wilderness Act in 1964 to give greater protection to wild areas.

“There was a recognition wild areas were disappearing,” he said. “It would take an act of Congress to undo that protection (provided by the Wilderness Act).”

Welker said in 1987, Congress approved the Michigan Wilderness Act, which created 10 wilderness areas, nine of which are in the Upper Peninsula.

Next to speak was Wild, who said in 1972 the Michigan Legislature approved the Michigan Wilderness and Natural Areas Act, from which the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park was created.

Wild said the Michigan legislation for creating wilderness areas is very similar to the federal legislation, but in Michigan, the size of a wilderness area must be at least 3,000 acres instead of the 5,000 in the federal legislation.

Wild said in 1925, the Michigan Legislature began to acquire the area, which became the Porkies. In 1945, 1954 and 1972 the levels of protection for the area grew.

Fink said there is a misconception, even by people in the National Park Service, that wilderness should have a higher level of protection than national parks.

“That is a common myth,” he said.

There are many people who think wilderness areas can’t be touched, Fink said, but as he understands the law, wilderness areas are to be conserved for future generations, not preserved.

Wilderness needs to be available for people to use, Fink said. The purpose of wilderness is to promote wonder and inspiration for those who visit there. However, unregulated use can cause problems.

“What is the best way to manage the area for use?” he asked.

Fink said there is currently a debate about whether the wolves on Isle Royale should be allowed to die out, or whether more wolves should be introduced.

“The wolves on Isle Royale are irrelevant to the species,” he said.