Roscoe Churchill


oscoe Churchill,
a leader of the environmental movement in Wisconsin, passed away
on February 9, 2007 after a long struggle with bone cancer.    
Roscoe was born on June 28, 1916 to George and Arminda Churchill,
the 10th of 11 children. He grew up on a farm and learned early
to work hard and to love nature. He thrived on splitting wood, riding
and driving horses, and eating berry pies. He completed County Normal
(teachers’ training) in 1937 at the age of 21. In the same
year he got his first teaching position and married Evelyn Dorothy
Haase, the love of his life. He and Evelyn were happily married
for nearly 59 years. 

Churchill was considered 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 water 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 Churchill became concerned that the
mine could endanger local groundwater and disrupt dairy farming
in Rusk County. Roscoe 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 Department of Natural Resources (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 1988 and
after running roughshod over local 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
is recounted in the forthcoming book by Churchill and his friend
Laura Furtman,

The Buzzards Have Landed: The Real Story of the
Flambeau Mine

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. 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
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 Crandon mine. Churchill spoke before
town and county boards all over western Wisconsin in 1997-98 when
Kennecott wanted to explore for copper in Jackson, Trempealeau,
Clark, La Crosse, 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

Churchill’s 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 of the Wisconsin
anti-mining movement. Even when cancer was slowing him down, Churchill
continued to help citizen groups opposed to Kennecott’s proposed
metallic sulfide mine in the Yellow Dog Plains of Michigan. He said,
“We can’t quit fighting, and we’re not going to.” 


Gedicks teaches sociology at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse
and is the author of

Resource Rebels: Native
Challenges to Mining and Oil Corporations

(South End Press, 2001).