Ecological Conditions of the Wisconsin Watershed Landscape of Lake Superior

The Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Reservation and the site of the mine are part of the Great Lakes watershed Basin. Water in this basin drains directly into the Great Lakes. The Reservation occupies over 125,000 acres and forty (40) miles of coastline along the south perimeter of Lake Superior. The Bad River Tribe also occupy land on Madeline Island just north of the mainland site. Within the reservation proper there are over one hundred (100) miles of rivers and streams that flow directly into Lake Superior: Lower Bad River, White River, Marengo River, Potato River, Beartrap Creek, and Kakagon River. The EPA applies ecological categories of use and function of each waterway. The assessment is comprehensive in that it acknowledges nature from multiple perspectives, not just a resource for recreation or commodification. They include: Cultural use like tribal ceremony; subsistence fishing, hunting, and harvesting; Wildlife Habitat, an environment that supports natural propagation of wildlife (that can be safely eaten by other wildlife and humans); Wild Rice Habitat; Aquatic Life and Fish; Recreational; Cold Water Fishery, cold-water and for spawning; and Cold Water Fishery for part of the year.[1] It is important to point out that these fisheries support the annual stocking of inland Wisconsin lakes for citizen and recreational fisherman.

The region’s porous hydrology is a consequence of its post-glacial geology. In general, the basin is formed with layers of sand and gravel deposits, wide-spaced and narrow valleys and sinuous rivers and streams. “The landforms within the Reservation are the result of the existence of the old lake bed of one of the previous stages of Lake Superior and glacial processes which scoured the bedrock and reworked loose sediments. This geological history produced a landscape dominated by a lowland clayey basin with numerous ravines, lakes and shallow wet depressions, and a rim of steeper landforms where the underlying bedrock prevented the ice from gouging.”[2] These valleys are riparian environments that are ideal habitat for aquatic, floral, and mammalian species. Riparian valleys offer water and shelter.

Before wilderness can be fully explored base-line definitions for wild, wildlife and wilderness should be articulated by each constituent; Bad River Tribe of Lake Superior Chippewa, the State of Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the federal Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. You will notice subtle but profound differences in their definitions.



[Bad River Tribe of Lake Superior Chippewa]: wild: land or a condition kept in its natural state[3]

[State of Wisconsin]: wild: undomesticated plant or animal[4]

[United States Federal Government]: wild: a state of independent resiliency of an ecosystem, habitat, or native plant and animal species[5]



[Bad River Tribe of Lake Superior Chippewa]: wildlife: Animals, plants and habitat to monitor and protect[6] and a source of living.[7]

[State of Wisconsin]:  wildlife: “’wild animal’ means any mammal, fish, wild bird, amphibian, reptile, mollusk, crustacean, or arthropod, or any part, products, egg or offspring thereof, or the dead body or parts thereof;”[8] “‘Wild plant’ means any undomesticated species of the plant kingdom occurring in a natural ecosystem;” and a cultural and natural resource for the citizens of Wisconsin. [9]

[United States Federal Government]:  wildlife: a plant or animal resource worthy of protection or stewardship.[10]



[Chippewa Tribes of Lake Superior (East of the Mississippi)]:  wilderness: a spiritual phenomenon that is revealed to humans in dreams, it cannot be destroyed because of its spiritual capacity, and a source of living.[11]

[State of Wisconsin]:  wilderness: a place of wonder and recreation[12]

[United States Federal Government]:  Wilderness: an ecological site and system of natural resource and wonder.[13]


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[1] EPA, pg. 6.

[2] EPA, pg. 5.

[3] As described in the history of the reservation: “The reservation is over 90% wild land kept in its natural state whenever possible by the tribe.” Source:

[4] Section 29.604 Endangered and threatened species protected section of Wisconsin state statutes. Source:

[5] Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Action Plan, reference pg. 8. “A restored ecosystem is resilient; its chemical, physical, and biological functions and processes provide the requisite conditions for life. A restored ecosystem contains sustainable populations of native plants and animal species in their habitat.”

[6] The Bad River Tribe describes dedicated resources within a Natural Resources department to manage and monitor wildlife within the reservation. Along with species, the tribe is describes habitat as contiguous with wildlife species. Source:

[7] Chippewa Tribes East of the Mississippi described wildlife as a source of living; source: Negotiations for the “Chippewa Treaty of July 29, 1837.” Satz, pgs. 131–153.

[8] Wisconsin State Statute 29.604  Endangered and threatened species protected, definition of wild animal and plant.

[9] The Department of Natural Resources: “Nothing quite compares with the experience of watching a wild animal in its native habitat. Wildlife in its natural setting gives us all something we need: a connection with nature and a sense of wonder, peace and beauty.”[9] “make this state great” and that wildlife is part of the states natural heritage. Wisconsin established an endangered species list in 1972, with the passage of Wisconsin State Statute 29.604 and Administrative Rule Chapter NR 27.

[10] The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Wildlife Refuge System articulates in its mission statement and guiding principals that wildlife serves a variety of human and civil compatible purposes, and is worthy of a variety of uses: hunting, fishing, wildlife observation, photography, interpretation, and education. The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative fourth focus area is the restoration of habitat (especially wetlands) and wildlife; they are treated as contiguous conditions.)Source:

[11] As described by various Chippewa Chiefs in the transcribed records of negotiations for the “Chippewa Treaty of July 29, 1837”) Satz, pg. 131–153. Council Monday July 24th 1837 “Sha-we-niq-wa-nabe.____________’My Father [President], What I have to say to you, place it strongly to your heart. The Master of life, and The Spirit of the Earth listen to us. The Master of life made the Earth, the grass and the trees that grow upon it, and the animals that roam over it. When the Great spirit made the Earth, he placed the Red Men upon it; & when the Chiefs were put upon it, it became very strong.”, Satz, pg. 138. Council Friday Morning July 28th “Aish-ke-bo-gi-ko-zhe (Flat Mouth)’My Father [President]. Your children are willing to let you have their lands, but they wish to reserve the privilege of making sugar from the trees, and getting their living from the Lakes and Rivers, {0560} as they have dome heretofore, and of remaining in this Country. It is hard to five up the lands. They will remain, and can not be destroyed—but you may cut down the Trees, and others will grow up. You know we can not live, deprived of our Lakes and Rivers; There is some game on the lands yet; & for that reason also, we wish to remain upon them, to get a living. Sometimes we scrape the Trees and eat the bark. The Great Spirit above, made the Earth, and causes it to produce, which enables us to live.” Satz, pg. 147.

[12]Section 23.09 Conservation (of the State of Wisconsin Constitution) “Purposes. The purpose of this section [the State Department of Natural Resources] is to provide an adequate and flexible system for the protection, development and use of forests, fish and game, lakes, streams, plant life, flowers and other outdoor resources in this state.” Vocabulary describes wilderness as objects and sites recreation, scenery, preservation of wildlife, and habitat for fisheries that in turn serve recreational hunting interests. The State Constitution under 23.0916 Section, Stewardship Land Access Section defines wilderness as a part of recreational activity.”Nature-based outdoor activity” means hunting, fishing, trapping, hiking, cross-country skiing, and any other nature-based outdoor activity designated by rule by the department for purposes of this section.(See Appendix) Source:

[13] “Your Great Father [President of the United States, Martin Van Buren] has sent me to see you in Council, to propose to you the purchase of a small part of your country East of the Missis[s]ippi River. This country, as I am informed, is not valuable to you for its game, and not suited to the culture of corn, and other Agricultural purposes. Your Great Father wishes to purchase your country on the Chippewa and St. Croix Rivers, for the advantage of its Pine Timber, which it is said to abound.” “Negotiations for the ‘Chippewa Treaty of July 29, 1837’”, Satz, pg. 131–132. EPA Fact Finding Report and Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Action Plan: Defines wilderness of Bad River Reservation in terms of its geology, hydrology (especially wetland habitat), wildlife (Aquatic life, fish, mammals, birds, & plants), recreation, practical and cultural purpose. Wilderness and all its components are a managed resource. EPA Final Findings of Fact, Bad River Band of Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians, Wisconsin, 2009–2014. GLRI: The Great Lakes wilderness is a wonder, source for 95% US fresh water, economic resource, and an ecological system. Source: and Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Action Plan.