The Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition is the only grassroots group which focuses solely on environmental issues across all of Michigan's Upper Peninsula. The U.P., as it is known in this region, is a forested peninsula (85%) that is surrounded by three Great Lakes (Superior, Huron, and Michigan). It is a sparsely settled region of small towns founded originally on the extractive industries of lumbering and mining (copper, iron, gold). During this century, the regional population has hovered between 300,000 and 320,000, with its largest city, Marquette's population about 26,000 (1998). UPEC has drawn its numerical and organizational strength from the two major population centers of the region -- the Marquette area and the Houghton-Hancock area -- which also house its two major universities (Northern Michigan University and Michigan Technological University).
The coalition is made up of 200-300 interested individual members as well as organizational members (historically between 3 and 15). We are a nonprofit, registered 501(c)(3)organization operating under a constitution originally ratified on January 24, 1976. Since the beginning the purpose has remained unchanged: to protect and maintain the unique environmental qualities of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan by educating the public and acting as a watchdog to industry and government.
UPEC has been an effective voice for the environment on a variety of issues. In the late 1970s and early 1980s UPEC members helped form development plans for Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and worked to get more stringent leasing rules for mineral mining in Michigan. In the early to mid-1980s we were directly involved in a controversy over the dumping of asbestos form fibers into Lake Superior by a Minnesota mining company, which eventually was halted by court order. At the same time we fought the Navy's ELF submarine guidance system (and lost, although the issue is still being contested annually at the Clam Lake, Wisconsin ELF site) and we successfully fought a proposal to put a high-level nuclear waste dump in the U.P. Later, in concert with others, UPEC worked to establish ten federally-designated wilderness areas in Michigan, nine of which are in Upper Michigan. We have also worked to stop proposals to build large pulp and paper mills within Lake Superior's watershed, to push for zero discharge of toxins into the Great Lakes, and to encourage citizen action in protecting community lakeshores from inappropriate development.
UPEC is a charter member of the Michigan Environmental Council, a statewide network of groups. Through our membership in Great Lakes United and the Lake Superior Alliance, we stay abreast of developments related to the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. Through our membership in the Timber Wolf Alliance we have supported the return of wolves, now estimated to number over 200, into the U.P.'s ecosystem. By being a member of HONOR, we affirm Native American treaty rights and the important contributions Native Americans have made and continue to make to the environmental quality of the Upper Great Lakes.
In its decades of citizen activism, UPEC has organized dozens of educational forums on everything from recycling to National Forest management plans to severed mineral rights and conservation easements. Our officers, directors, and members have testified at Congressional and state-level hearings. Sometimes we have gone to court, most recently in an amicus brief supporting the Federal Forest Service in their right to regulate motorized boat traffic in the Sylvania Wilderness area of the Western U.P. We have penned many policy statements on U.P. environmental issues, and currently are preparing a handbook on U.P. forestry practices, both the wrongs and the rights (sections will be added to the web site for reaction, so keep checking in).
For over three decades an all-volunteer structure has sustained UPEC as new activists have been found to replace older ones who tired out or moved on. Given the increasing variety and complexity of environmental issues in our region the Board of Directors decided in 1995 to move beyond relying on this all-volunteer structure. A permanent endowment fund was begun through the Marquette Community Foundation that will eventually permit UPEC to bring a paid professional staffer on board, and give us the financial resources to pursue vigorously every environmental challenge that the Upper Peninsula will face in the next century. .