The Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition chartered in 1976, 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 (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, silver, and gold). Since 1900, the region’s population has hovered between 300,000 and 320,000, with its largest city, Marquette’s population about 22,000 (2014). UPEC draws its organizational strength from the entire U.P. which also hosts three major universities (Northern Michigan University, Michigan Technological University, and Lake Superior State University). UPEC board members come from all over the U.P. and members and volunteers come from all over the country.
The coalition is made up of hundreds of interested individual members. We are a non-profit, 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 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, (Extremely Low Frequency electromagnetic radiation.) 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 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 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 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, including preparing a handbook on U.P. forestry practices.
For over three decades an all-volunteer structure sustained UPEC as new activists were recruited to replace those who retired. 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, which has since permitted UPEC to bring a paid professional staffer on board.
On December 31, 2017 UPEC added new capabilities as a group following its merger with Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP). Over its thirteen-year history, SWUP has 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 the Mining Action Group of the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition. Adding former SWUP President Kathleen Heideman, former Executive Director Alex Maxwell, and former SWUP Board Member Steve Garske to the UPEC Board enhances UPEC’s overall effectiveness as it continues to pursue its mission.
“As the longest serving environmental organization in Michigan’s U.P., the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition (UPEC) strives to preserve the unique cultural and natural resources of the Upper Peninsula through public education, the promotion of sound land stewardship, and reasoned dialogue with communities, governments, industries and others with whom we share this land.”