Friday, March 7, 2008

Julie Ristau (Tomales Bay Institute) will discuss commons-based solutions to environmental and social problems

I would like to add a short personal note to all of this. After hearing all the controversy surrounding what is going on out in the Big Bog, I decided to take my kids camping to Big Bog State Park. We went on the Bog Walk on the Boardwalk. I understand we tax-payers paid several million dollars for this. I think it was worth it if the purpose is to protect the Big Bog. This isn't the case as much as it would seem to be. What this Park and Boardwalk appear to be as far as I can see is some kind of cover to disguise the destruction taking place with the peat mining operation.

The large colorful posters are maybe designed to cover up the way Native American People have been mistreated. I am not sure if this is intentional. Maybe there is just a complete insensitivity by those who created the elaborate displays I don't know.

After taking the Boardwalk self tour, I went to ask the manager of the Big Bog State Park directions to the peat mining site. The man identified his self as Doug Easthouse. I couldn't believe what he told me. He said he was prohibited from talking about the peat mining operation. He said he could lose his job. I tried insisting he give me directions to the peat mining site because I wanted my kids to see the complete picture.

After Mr. Easthouse refused to tell me how to get to the peat mining site I asked him for a map of the area.

Mr. Easthouse refused to show me a map of the area because he said he understood my intent was to gain information about the peat mining operation.

Mr. Easthouse suggested I go purchase my own map. He said I might be able to get a map in Bemidji. That is an hour away.

I then went to a house where they were advertising wild rice for sale. These people gave me directions to the peat mining site.

The lady was almost in tears as she told us how everyone in the area was opposed to the peat mining but no officials would listen to anyone. She told me that both she and her husband had tried to talk to all kinds of government officials and no one would listen to their concerns. She said if word gets out about the increasingly rising high levels of mercury contamination people would stop buying their wild rice because these plants suck up the water containing the mercury. She told us public health officials had advised her family to be careful they do not eat too much of the rice they harvest because with the high levels of mercury in the fish the wild rice was sure to be loaded with mercury and perhaps other contaminants.

They were nice people. The husband drew me a very detailed map how to get to the mining site.

This is a very beautiful area. We saw ducks, geese even swans and pelicans. We saw huge eagles. I think there must have been every kind of bird imaginable. We saw a little red fox hunting in the ditch along the road. There was beaver swimming in a pond and muskrats jumped into the water. Further down we saw moose tracks on the road. My kids were very excited. I don't think they ever experienced being this deep into a wilderness area.

We arrived at the peat mining site about two in the afternoon. We walked out about one mile over a road that had been made far out into the bog.

It is impossible for me to describe the horrible devastation we experienced. I am still enraged that our government would spend millions of dollars on a Bog Walk and Interpretive Center telling us how precious and delicate this bog is. Then we see this kind of destruction.

We set up our tent after walking through the peat mining area. After we had the tent set up we roasted hot dogs and toasted marshmallows.

You can't help but get tears in your eyes just thinking about how any human being could possibly consider destroying all of this. It will all be destroyed. There are huge big drainage ditches carrying away the water and draining the bog for miles and miles. These aren't little ditches like along the roads. These are huge wide deep ditches.

I have read the Minnesota Volunteer for many years. This slick publication would lead anyone reading it that the MNDNR really cares about our environment.

I will never believe anything I read in the Minnesota Volunteer again. I will let anything I hear about what the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources says about how they are protecting our environment go in one ear and right out the other ear.

My experience ranging from this "Manager" of the Big Bog State Park to what I heard from local people to what I saw with my own eyes just tells me that the only thing the MNDNR cares about is money.

I am glad to see people like Alan Maki and Dave Thorstadt vigorously speaking out on this issue.

I have been reading a lot of what Alan Maki has been writing about the peat mining in the Big Bog. I just kind of thought, so what is new. To see and experience the complete picture just standing there in the center of this massive destruction underway is enough to make any person think something real bad is wrong with our country.

Reading and seeing are two different things. I would encourage everyone to plan a camping trip out to the Big Bog. Visit the Big Bog State Park. Visit this peat mining site.

If it is possible for Mother Nature to cry she is for sure crying now because my eyes swell up in tears just remembering what I saw. I don't even need to look at pictures to remind me of what I saw. I will never forget the destruction I saw. I don't know how any human being can set out to intentionally cause this kind of destruction.

My blood just boils as I sit here thinking about what I saw. Usually camping trips I go on with my kids are very memorable and enjoyable experiences... this was an eye opening and educational experience for me and my kids.

What I think about is all the people who camp in the Big Bog State Park and they go out to experience the Boardwalk and Interpretive exhibits. Most of these people will never know just twenty minutes away everything that they are being told is so precious is being destroyed. They will never know what hypocrites would create this kind of educational exhibit while they are engaged in such massive destruction.

I don't think there is any word to describe what is going on... just go see it for yourself.

What is really sad to think about is how much of this goes on in our country that we don't even know about. How many people would know to drive twenty minutes down the back roads to a peat mining site if one guy didn't go to a meeting and then probe and push a bunch of big shots for answers? This is as sad as the destruction taking place in the Big Bog. The destruction of democracy seems to run parallel with the destruction of our environment. Is this accidental or by design?


-----Original Message-----

From: Alan Maki []

Sent: Friday, March 07, 2008 12:31 PM

To:;;;;;;;;;; 'Laurel';;;; 'Edgar A. Rudberg'; 'William McAuliffe';;; 'Mike Kilgore'; 'Alan Maki'; 'greenpartymike'; 'J. Reed Anderson';;;

Subject: Re: Julie Ristau (Tomales Bay Institute) will discuss commons-based solutions to environmental and social problems.

I noticed the following (see below) in David Shove’s “Progressive Calendar” and thought you might want to discuss the peat mining operation underway in the Pine Island State Forest located in the Big Bog as I was made aware by one of your members that WILPF had yet to take a position on this straight forward issue of defending the largest, most pristine, primary freshwater aquifer in North America.

Hopefully Julie will address this issue in her talk; if not, perhaps during discussion your organization would like to consider sending a letter to the Minnesota Commissioner of Natural Resources requesting that the permit to mine peat granted to Berger Peat Moss from Quebec, Canada be revoked.

WILPF is involved in a “Save the Water Campaign” and it would be very helpful if your organization would step forward to help us save this huge freshwater aquifer because we can not fight the state government and capitalist globalization by ourselves.

This is a state-wide issue… in fact, it is an important national and international issue because the mercury and dioxin contaminated waters being drained from the Big Bog so that the peat can be mined are draining into the Lake of the Woods Watershed which includes Minnesota, Ontario, and Manitoba. The Ontario and Manitoba governments have never been informed that as the already mercury laden Black River is being used as the drainage ditch to feed this contaminated water into the Rainy River (an international boundary water), that this contaminated water is entering Lake of the Woods (another international boundary water).

David Thorstadt just delivered an important speech in Minneapolis about this situation; that speech is on this blog:

I have a very detailed blog about peat mining in the Big Bog:

WILPF Save the Water campaigns:

This is from the:



Help pressure the MN DNR to revoke the permit to mine peat granted to Berger Peat Moss. Please send comments to: Commissioner Mark Holsten For talking points, see David Thorstad’s talk and

I hope that both WILPF and the Tomales Bay Institute will decide to join the struggle to Save Our Bog.

Peat mining in the Big Bog, like so many other environmental problems, has a very sharp social justice aspect to it, also… not least of all--- racism and governmental corruption.

As Elmer Benson, the Minnesota Farmer-Labor Governor often pointed out, “If we were to eliminate racism and corruption from the scheme of things, this entire rotten capitalist system would come tumbling down.”

And, earlier, Abraham Lincoln observed, “Corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow.”

In the case of the peat mining in the Big Bog, if the racism and corruption were to be stripped away, the permit to mine peat would be revoked, and the Big Bog would receive the kind of protection to which Mother Nature is entitled from a democratic government.

I would point out, that as this money was being embezzled, the person doing the embezzling, was illegally denying us access to public records concerning this dirty deal.

Well, this “corruption,” along with the most disgusting racism, has been enthroned in Minnesota politics since the mass hanging in Mankato and has so permeated Minnesota politics and business that we are now looking at one of the most racist and corrupt resulting deals; the result of what happens when corrupt county, state, federal and tribal officials join hands with corporations. For over thirty years, Roger Jourdain fought to protect the patterned peat lands of Minnesota, only to have a lifetime of struggle betrayed as politicians and a Canadian Corporation wanted to extract the peat; and, the Red Lake Tribal Council, which wanted to use its last--- fourth--- gaming license to build another casino “owned” by Red Lake Gaming Enterprises where the slot machines and table games are owned by a bunch of mobsters; with this $200,000,000.00 casino to be built in International Falls, Minnesota.

The only thing Minnesotans have received from such deals is the further contamination of our streams, rivers, lakes and even the land and the air, as more than thirty-thousand Minnesotans now go to work in loud, noisy, smoke-filled casinos at poverty wages without any rights under state or federal labor laws.

This deal which traded a pristine wilderness bog, which is our primary freshwater aquifer, took root in the offices of the Koochiching Economic Development Authority (KEDA) which employs only two people administrative staff… one of the staff has now been charged with embezzling more than $300,000.00.

Abraham Lincoln and Elmer Benson were right.

After spawning this racist, corrupt, back-room deal, KEDA is no longer boasting of this boondoggle, nor the embezzlement charges, on its web site:

However, the destruction of the Big Bog moves forward with a highway built out into the Big Bog, subsidized by tax-payers, so Berger Peat Moss of Quebec can truck away the profits.

I trust that no one is advising anyone that this is any kind of “done deal.” Shortly before the Minnesota Commissioner of Natural Resources, Gene Merriam, resigned… Commissioner Merriam requested that I meet with him after he toured the Big Bog. Commissioner Merriam, in front of four DNR enforcement officers, including the head enforcement officer for the Region, told me that he “did not remember signing the permit, nor approving the permit to mine any peat in the Big Bog, let alone in a State Forest.” Shortly after this meeting, Commissioner Merriam unexpectedly and abruptly resigned and the man Tim Pawlenty had put in charge of watching over Merriam’s shoulder, Mark Holsten, was appointed the Commissioner of Natural Resources.

Did anything improper or corrupt take place here? Was Commissioner Merriam forced from office after he requested to meet with me over this issue of peat mining in the Big Bog? At a Trout Unlimited function, in a personal conversation I had with then Deputy Commissioner, Brad Moore, he strongly insinuated that Merriam was being ousted for meeting with me against the “advice” of Mark Holsten, whom I talked to in Warroad, told his staff that they were “prohibited from communicating with me.” Holsten ordered DNR staff, that if I entered any DNR office and requested to talk to anyone, the secretaries were to tell me that, “No one is available to talk to you at the present time. If you would like to schedule an appointment, someone will be in touch with you.”

Well, at least three DNR staff people and two scientists, along with a top scientist employed by the U.S. States Army Corps of Engineers, were either demoted or fired as a result of providing me with public documents that Mark Holsten ordered withheld from me… including the letter signed by Red Lake Nation Chair Butch Brun, provided at the request of United States Congressman James Oberstar, dropping the Red Lake Nation’s historic opposition to peat mining and commercialization of the Big Bog. Pegg Julson, the head of the Littlefork Office of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources was immediately demoted upon orders of Mark Holsten after she provided me with the Butch Brun letter. Perhaps another punitive demotion which is a coincidence? Maybe, maybe not. However, Pegg Julson was the first woman to rise to such a high position in the Forestry Department of the MNDNR. Something to consider as we celebrate International Women’s Day.

What we have in this issue is: racism, sexism, corruption and everything else spun off by capitalist globalization.

Let me point out, that the only reason anyone ever found out that the permit to mine peat was authorized was because I was assigned by our casino workers organizing committee to attend a meeting which was addressed by Congressman Oberstar concerning plans of the Red Lake Nation to build a new casino in International Falls, Minnesota.

At this meeting, Paul Nevanen the Executive Director of KEDA, whose associate now stands accused of embezzlement stemming from funds from this deal insisted that I be removed from the meeting at the Holiday Inn in International Falls, Minnesota. After being physically ejected from this meeting at the insistence of Nevanen and Congressman James Oberstar, who insisted that my presence at the meeting was in violation of some kind of law, which Oberstar has never been able to provide me with to this day, that me being in this meeting was some kind of “conflict of interest,” even though the meeting had been advertised in the International Falls Daily Journal as a “public meeting, everyone interested in economic development is encouraged to attend,” I continued to sit outside the door listening through the one inch “crack” in the door. It was at this time I heard United States Congressman James Oberstar say, “We are still waiting for the letter from Chief Brun signing off on Red Lake’s opposition to peat mining. After we receive this letter I will see to it that the required permits are processed and the Department of Interior is aware that we want the paperwork for the casino to be pushed through appropriate channels.”

I then went to see Red Lake Nation Chair Butch Brun in his Red Lake office. When I asked Brun to explain this letter Oberstar had referred to he went berserk; quite literally--- throwing things in his office at me, pushing me, slapping me, hitting me, kicking me, swearing at me… the Red Lake police were called and they told me to leave because as long as I was present they couldn’t “bring the Chairman under control.” Needless to say, Chairman Brun and I were not able to reach any agreement on a contract for the employees of Red Lake’s Casino Empire--- consisting of three casinos, an indoor water park, hotel and motel and restaurants. I am really not sure if it was the suggestion we negotiate a contract, or my request for the “letter,” that set the Chairman off.

Oberstar has boasted--- on television, radio and in the newspapers--- that he is the one who brokered this deal… boasting that he created thirty new jobs which Paul Nevanen has boasted will pay $8.00 per hour, most of which will be summer jobs. Oberstar doesn’t like to talk about the more than 50,000 jobs on the Iron Range which have been lost, but bristles with anger when I mention these fifty-thousand jobs; almost to the extent of Butch Brun’s anger at being asked about the letter he wrote.

Perhaps if Oberstar and Nevanen would pay their employees real living wages tax-payers wouldn’t now be looking at eating the $300,000.00 Nevanen’s companion embezzled.

Since tomorrow is International Women’s Day I would like to point out that women suffer the most from mercury and dioxin contaminated water; and, most casino workers in Minnesota are young women of child-bearing age who suffer the most harmful and detrimental affects of second-hand smoke while employed in the casinos.

I would also point out that the Red Lake Nation is once again marketing Red Lake Walleye which is being sold through its casinos. Red Lake has been designated as one of the lakes in North America with one of the highest levels of mercury where the DNR and the Minnesota Department of Public Health have advised women of child-bearing age, pregnant women and nursing mothers not to consume walleye from Red Lake… yet, unbeknownst to casino patrons, many young women, they are consuming this walleye in “All You Can Eat Walleye” feasts.

And Berger Peat Moss out of Quebec, Canada will sell this mercury laden peat all over the world, marketed under the Scott’s and Miracle Grow brands. Something to think about when you consider what those nice bright red “vine ripened” tomatoes in the produce section of your grocery store have been grown in… peat pots?

Not to worry though because most of the media which has ignored this issue has assured everyone it is because the issue of peat mining in the Big Bog is of no significance to most people. It is good enough that the Star Tribune merely informs people of the scientific reasons why bogs are an important part of fighting global warming without talking specifically about the peat mining in the Big Bog… and, no need to mention that most Minnesota legislators view peat as a renewable resource which is cheaper to mine than coal to be used in the generation electricity in biomass energy production.

Perhaps native grasses to produce ethanol will be grown when the Big Bog is sufficiently drained… shhhhhh, Representative Tony Cornish has asked me not to mention this.

I guess everyone is wondering why it has taken so long for WILPF and the Sierra Club to take a stand on this issue concerning the future of our largest and most precious freshwater aquifer… well, as of a few days ago the Sierra Club is now on record as being for urging the permit to mine the peat in the Big Bog be revoked… perhaps the Minneapolis branch of WILPF will now get on board.

From: Doris Marquit

Subject: WILPF/commons 3.08 10am

WILPF (Women's International League for Peace & Freedom, MN Metro Branch) invites you to Coffee With discussion:

Recovering the Commons

Speaker: Julie Ristau (Tomales Bay Institute) will discuss commons-based solutions to environmental and social problems. Saturday, March 8, 10 am-noon Van Cleve Community Ctr., 901 15th Ave. S.E., Minneapolis

Natural gifts like air and water, and social creations like science and the Internet, constitute our shared inheritance. The state has abandoned its role of maintaining a healthy balance between the commons and the market. Can we nurture and protect common assets from the ravages of exploitation, pollution, and privatization? Or must market forces dominate? Learn basic principles for managing our commons. Hear about practical ways we can leave common assets in better condition for future generations.


FFI: 651-458-7090;

Alan L. Maki

Member, MN DFL State Central Committee

Member, Sierra Club, North Star Chapter

Director of Organizing,
Midwest Casino Workers Organizing Council

58891 County Road 13
Warroad, Minnesota 56763

Phone: 218-386-2432

Cell phone: 651-587-5541


Check out my blog:

Thoughts From Podunk