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Iron County votes to close LCO Harvest Camp

Foster Falls, Gurney WI.  Photo: Iron County Wisconsin
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Foster Falls, Gurney WI. Photo: Iron County Wisconsin

HURLEY, Wis. (WXPR) -- The Iron County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to close the Lac Courte Oreilles Harvest Camp Thursday night, saying residents are violating a 14-day camping limit on county forest land.

About 30 people attended the meeting, most speaking in support of what's officially called the Harvest Education Learning Project, or HELP Village. An hour of public comment was followed by an hour in closed session, where county supervisors consulted with legal counsel. A motion to close the camp passed 13 votes to 0, with two members absent.

Harvest Camp Spokesperson Paul DeMain says it's unclear if the next step will be a court order or if the sheriff's office will issue a citation.  "I've already had a good relationship with the sheriff here, so he said he would notify us on what he planned on doing. He said that he would notify us about what he planned on doing. I pray and hope that it aint a situation where the would come down on the camp."

Since last spring Lac Courte Oreilles tribal members and others have been residing near the site of a proposed iron mine in the Penokee Range. The residents say one of the purposes is to demonstrate that the land can be used productively without being mined, and the group plans to begin a maple sugar tapping operation this weekend.

Doreen O'Donnell of the Hurley Chamber of Commerce said she appreciates the educational opportunity the Harvest Camp offers, but pointed out that it remains a newcomer to the economic struggles in the area.  "My concern is that before this was even talked about as a possible mining site, You folks weren't here. You weren't coming to our area to harvest sugar maples, you were not coming to the area to pick berries, you were not coming to do these things as an organized group. I'm sure some of you were on your own but not as an organized group, I have not heard this."

Camp supporters criticized the county board for not inviting tribal representatives to the table, and warn the eviction could infringe on Chippewa treaty rights to gather food on ceded territory.

This is the third time the Iron County Board has taken up the Harvest Camp, but the first this kind of action has been taken.

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