MAC: Mines and Communities

Roscoe Churchill

Published by MAC on 2007-02-10

Roscoe Churchill

Obituary/Press Release

By Al Gedicks, Wisconsin

10th February 2007

Roscoe Churchill, a dearly loved leader of Wisconsin’s environmental movement passed away on February 9, 2007 in his sleep after a long struggle with prostate cancer.

Roscoe Churchill of Ladysmith, was the grandfather of Wisconsin's grassroots anti-mining movement. For more than 30 years, this retired school principal, part-time farmer, former Republican, and Rusk County supervisor, along with his late wife Evelyn, were the heart and soul of the efforts to stop some of the largest mining companies in the world, including Kennecott, Noranda, Exxon, Rio Algom and BHP Billiton from destroying the land and clean waters of communities from Ladysmith to the Mole Lake Chippewa Reservation near Crandon, and from La Crosse County to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

In the early 1970s the Kennecott Copper Company tried to develop a copper mine in Ladysmith and Roscoe became concerned that the mine could endanger local groundwater and disrupt the dairy farming economy of Rusk County. During their retirement years, he and Evelyn traveled across the U.S. and Canada, visiting active and abandoned mines and educating themselves about every aspect of mining.

Evelyn specialized in Wisconsin's mining laws and regulations while Roscoe did most of the public speaking and debates with mining company officials and representatives of the Wisconsin DNR. He and Evelyn were among the founders of the Rusk County Citizens Action Group, formed in the mid 1970s to oppose Kennecott's proposed open pit copper mine on the banks of the Flambeau River.

Local opposition stopped the mine in 1976 but the company tried again in 988 and after running roughshod over township opposition and covering up the presence of endangered species in the Flambeau River, received permits to mine in 1991. The long and sordid history of Kennecott's interference with local democracy and the courageous resistance by grassroots citizens is recounted in the forthcoming book by Roscoe Churchill and his friend Laura Furtman, called The Buzzards Have Landed: The Real Story of the Flambeau Mine.

Their discussions around the kitchen table with friends and neighbors led to the drafting and successful passage of the 1998 Wisconsin Mining Moratorium Law, known as the Churchill Moratorium Law within the environmental community, in honor of Roscoe and Evelyn's key role in drafting the original legislation.

This law set a strict performance standard for mining permits which required mining companies to demonstrate successful mining and post-mining without polluting surrounding surface and groundwaters. No mining company has been able to meet this standard and Wisconsin soon earned a reputation within the international mining industry as the least attractive place to mine.

Roscoe's untiring opposition to ecologically destructive mining had nothing to do with "Not in my backyard" sentiment. He traveled across the state to assist the Indian, environmental and sportfishing alliance that formed to oppose Exxon's proposed Crandon mine at the headwaters of the Wolf River. He was an effective public speaker and organizer with the Wolf Watershed Educational Project, one of the principal groups that stopped Exxon, Rio Algom and BHP Billiton from constructing the ill-conceived Crandon mine.

Roscoe spoke before town and county boards all over western Wisconsin in 1997-98 when Kennecott wanted to explore for copper in La Crosse, Jackson, Trempealeau, Clark, and Eau Claire counties. All five counties voted to ban mining on public lands.Roscoe and Evelyn's dedication to preserving sustainable economies in Wisconsin received special recognition by several Wisconsin tribes, including the Menominee, the Mole Lake Chippewa, the Forest County Potawatomi, the Lac Courte Oreilles Chippewa and the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission.

Roscoe's knowledge, experience, eloquence and fearlessness in the face of irresponsible corporate and bureaucratic power won the admiration and respect of an entire generation of environmental activists.

The Churchill farm became a mecca for young people interested in learning from the elders of the Wisconsin anti-mining movement. Even when the ravages of prostate cancer was slowing him down, he continued to give his time, energy and expertise to newly formed citizen groups opposed to Kennecott's proposed metallic sulfide mine in the Yellow Dog Plains of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

"We can't quit fighting, and we're not going to!" As long as there was breath in his lungs he used his voice to speak uncomfortable truths to power and to inspire hope and confidence in the grassroots.

Roscoe and Evelyn's legacy is one of the strongest grassroots environmental movements in the history of Wisconsin.


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