Despite predictions 20 years ago that 10 copper and iron ore mines might be operating in northern Wisconsin, the state currently has one active copper mine, which is scheduled to close next February. Flambeau Mining Co. in Ladysmith has operated a highly profitable open-pit copper mine in Rusk County since 1993 and provided much-needed jobs in an area of generally high unemployment.
However profitable the Rusk County operation has been, other mining exploration efforts in the state are meeting strong opposition. A proposed zinc and copper underground mine on 865 acres near Crandon has brought the issue of mining in Wisconsin to a head. The Mole Lake Chippewa Band and a number of environmental groups object to the mine on several grounds, including concerns over possible damage to an important wild rice lake bed and damage to the Wolf River.
While state officials are reviewing the company's permit application for this mine carefully, some local governments are taking a stand on mining issues. Jackson, Eau Claire and Clark counties voted to prohibit mining exploration on county forest land for at least a decade. But at the same time, in Jackson County 10 leases have been signed by private landowners to allow Flambeau to explore for mineral deposits on their land, and a similar number of landowners in Clark County will allow exploration by Kennecott Mining.
Regardless of the Crandon mine's fate, northwestern Wisconsin isn't likely to turn into a mining region, says Tom Evans, geologist for mineral resources and mining information in the Department of Natural Resources. While the "mineral potential in northern Wisconsin is very good," Evans says, the long permitting process and preparation time before a mine is fully operational diffuses the impact. He cites the planned closing of the Flambeau mine at Ladysmith, long before the Crandon area mine might open.
Wisconsin copper mining in 1995
Source: Flambeau Mining Co.