The Wolf is Calling - Again

Do you have a favorite river?  I have lots of favorites.  And more often than not, whichever one I find myself standing in at the time rises to the top of the list.  But there are a couple of rivers that I feel a much deeper connection to – rivers like the Wolf.

 

I grew up in the Fox Valley, and the Wolf River is well known there for its spring white bass and walleye runs.  Slightly further upstream, near New London, native sturgeon make their own epic spawning runs.  My connection with the Wolf starts even further upstream, in Langlade County.

 

In my late teens and early twenties, my friends and I spent just about every weekend camping near the Wolf.  The first stop was always the Highway M Bridge – to see which rocks were above the waterline in the brawling freestone river.  This was before we all had USGS stream gauge data at our fingertips.

 

There’s no shortage of public lands along the Wolf.  We’d often hike the shorelines and go rafting during the day.  Evenings were for trout fishing, and all too soon darkness brought us back to campfires, cards, and cold beverages.

 

Trips to the Wolf became less frequent as I reached my late twenties, mostly because I had moved to the Milwaukee area - easily doubling my drive time.  Priorities changed too as there was much more fishing to do and less late night partying.

 

My first exposure to mayfly hatches occurred on the Wolf.  Sulpher and Brown Drake hatches can turn a slow day into frantic action.  My favorite hatch is the Ephoron Leukon, or the White Fly.  They typically hatch in August – and it can look like a blizzard in reverse, with thousands of large, white mayflies taking to the evening sky.

 

One of the first camping trips I took with my future wife was up to the Wolf River.  That was the Memorial Day Weekend we woke to two inches of snow covering the campsite.  We packed up the tent and spent the rest of the weekend at a friend’s nearby cabin – but we’ve been back with the tent plenty of times since.

 

The first time I filled my waders with cold trout water was on the Wolf.  I tried crossing the swift run out off of Buettner Road when the water was a little higher than usual.  Oops.  I’m thankful all I ended up with was wet clothes, and an increased respect for moving water.

 

The strangest thing I ever caught fishing was also on the Wolf.  The White mayflies were hatching and I was down to my last dry fly – hung up on an obstruction about 40 feet across the river.  I waded upstream about a hundred feet to cross at a riffle, and then came down the other side to retrieve my fly.  As I reached down the head of an adult snapping turtle rose to meet me – my fly clearly lodged in the corner of its mouth!  I lost the fly but kept my fingers intact.

 

The Wolf is where I was exposed to Trout Unlimited, threats to our natural resources, and the proposed Crandon Mine.  Wisconsin is an incredibly water-rich state, a fact that seems hard to grasp for out-of-state mining interests.

 

There is a sizable deposit of zinc and copper near the headwaters of the Wolf River.  Unfortunately, those metals are locked up in rock that’s high in sulfur.  When the ore is dug out and the sulfides are exposed to air and water, sulfuric acid becomes the toxic byproduct.  I was sure the sulfide mining threat to the Wolf ended when the Tribes stepped in and bought the land slated for the mine in 2003.

 

Fast forward ten years, and a few more fishing trips to the Wolf, and I find myself getting involved with TU at the State Council level as we’re assisting the local Wild Rivers Chapter fight off the threat of the GTAC sulfide mining project in the Penokee Hills.  Lessons learned from the past are paying dividends.  To date, the Penokees and its waterways are safe.

 

But we lost some traction along the way.  Wisconsin’s “Prove It First” law was repealed in the run up to GTAC.  The law had required sulfide mining companies to show examples of other sulfide mines that had operated safely before obtaining permits to mine in our state.

 

Now, with the Back 40 Mine looming on the Michigan side of the Menominee River, sulfide mining is front and center in our minds.  Part of the Back 40 project includes a processing facility, which will make sulfide mining in Wisconsin much more economically feasible.

 

I was shocked to hear recently that in February, Badger Minerals (a subsidiary of a Canadian Mining Company) was given a permit to do exploratory drilling in southeast Oneida County – very near the headwaters of the Wolf River.

 

The Wild and Scenic Wolf River deserves all the protection we can give it.  If the metals cannot be extracted without harming the surrounding lands and waterways, then they shouldn’t be extracted at all.  Our thriving outdoor recreation economy is not worth risk for short-term economic gains by a foreign mining company.

 

Forgive me if this fight seems personal – for me and thousands of others who live, work, and play near the Wolf River, it is.

 

Much Respect,

Mike Kuhr

State Council Chair

 

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