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Sokaogon Chippewa Community passes resolution in support of Pelican River Forest conservation project

Katie Thoresen

While the Oneida County Board discusses a resolution opposing the Pelican River Forest project, another local government passed a resolution in support of it.

The Pelican River Forest is a 70,000-acre conservation project that would secure easements on land in Oneida, Forest, and Langlade County for public recreation, timber harvesting, and the protection of natural resources.

“We always forget about the things out in the natural resources that can’t talk for themselves like the trees and the turtles and the animals right down to the little critters. We think our life is more important than theirs. For us, this is just an opportunity to support something to benefit all of the living beings,” said Sokaogon Chippewa Community Environmental Director Tina Van Zile.

While the land the Pelican River Forest would protect if easements are secured don’t encroach on the Mole Lake Band of Lake Superior Chippewa land in Forest County, it’s not too far.

But more importantly according to the tribe, it would protect natural resources the Sokaogon Chippewa Community and other Ojibwe Tribes have relied on like wild rice, medicinal plants, and subsistence hunting. The entirety of the Pelican River Forest falls within ceded territory.

“Our manoomin which is wild rice. There are areas in this Pelican area that it’s been gone, but we would like to restore it, but then there’s other areas where it’s still in the river system,” said Van Zile. “Wild rice has been part of our identity for a long, long time. It stems from our own migration story. It’s a piece of our migration story. Our people would travel east to where the food grows on water and wild rice is that food. It’s a very sacred food for us.”

The protection of natural resources is just one of the many reasons the tribe supports the Pelican River Forest as laid out in the resolution it passed in support of the project.

The resolution also talks about the project benefits of combating climate change, supporting the forest products industry, and promoting tourism in the region through the outdoor recreation opportunities that would be available on the land.

“One way we survive up here is through tourism many of the businesses that whether it be small mom and pop locations to a bigger restaurant, grocery store, or even our casino. We all in this area survive financially on tourism and this area is a big attraction to hikers and people doing trails, snowmobiles, ATV/UTV,” said Van Zile.

The resolution calls for the Wisconsin Legislature and the Governor to fully support and accept all forms of funding to establish the Pelican River Forest, including funding from the Knowles Nelson Stewardship Fund.

The use of Knowles Nelson dollars to buy the easements was approved by the state Natural Resources Board.

It’s currently being held up by the legislature’s Join Finance Committee where anonymous lawmakers objected to it.

The JFC has yet to hold a meeting on the issue despite state law directing them to do so.

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
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