Chartered in 1976, UPEC was the first grassroots group that focused solely on environmental issues across all of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The U.P., as this region is known, is a forested peninsula 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.
UPEC draws its organizational strength from the entire U.P. The coalition is made up of hundreds of interested individual members from the U.P. and elsewhere. We are a non-profit, registered 501(c)(3) organization with an all-volunteer Board and one part-time staff member.
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 involved in a controversy over the dumping of asbestos 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 (extremely Low Frequency electromagnetic radiation) submarine guidance system.
We helped defeat a proposal to put a high-level nuclear waste dump in the U.P. Later, in concert with others, UPEC worked to establish ten designated wilderness areas in Michigan, nine of which are in Upper Michigan. In 1999, we adopted a 4-mile segment of the North Country National Scenic Trail (NCT) about 6 miles south of Alston, in southern Houghton County.
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. Today, we run two successful small-grants programs, focused on Environmental Education and Community Conservation.
UPEC is a charter member of the Michigan Environmental Council, a statewide network of environmental groups. Through our membership in regional environmental organizations, we stay abreast of developments related to the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. Through the Timber Wolf Alliance, we have supported the return of wolves, now estimated to number over 200, into the U.P.’s ecosystem.
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 U.S. 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, including preparing a handbook on U.P. forestry practices.
In 2016 UPEC added new capabilities as a group following its merger with Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP). Over its thirteen-year history, SWUP developed a strong social media presence and a reputation for hard-hitting commentary on sulfide mining permits in the U.P.; their work continues as UPEC’s Mining Action Group.