Macroinvertebrate / Endangered Species

Between 1991 and 1998 Flambeau Mining Company (FMC) was required to monitor macroinvertebrate populations in the Flambeau River, both upstream and downstream of the Flambeau Mine site. Additional studies were conducted in 2004, 2006 and 2010-2011.

Dr. Ken Parejko, Professor Emeritus, Department of Biology, University of Wisconsin-Stout, did an independent analysis of FMC’s macroinvertebrate  data for the Wisconsin Resources Protection Council (WRPC) in April 2009. Besides reviewing the available data, he pointed out the following significant shortfall of the FMC monitoring program:

“Several species of Wisconsin endangered or threatened species of invertebrates were found in the Flambeau River in the vicinity of the mine site in May/June 1991, after mine permits had been issued … but prior to the commencement of mining. [This] discovery of endangered species by [Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR)] divers who were working on an unrelated project resulted in a lawsuit filed by the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe and Sierra Club in July 1991. This issue was deemed serious enough by the courts that a temporary injunction on mine construction was handed down. … As a result of [additional] survey work [done by the DNR in 1991] … a number of Wisconsin endangered or threatened species were confirmed to exist in the vicinity of the mine site, including the following: the purple warty back mussel, the bullhead mussel, and three species of dragonflies. … It appears that beyond the DNR survey of the Flambeau River, FMC was not asked to, nor did they, undertake additional monitoring to ascertain the location and/or populations trends of these species near the mine.”

After evaluating the nature of the macroinvertebrate studies conducted by FMC and the resultant data, Dr. Parejko concluded the following in his report:

“Due to a lack of baseline data, flaws in FMC’s study design and inconsistencies in the reporting of data, it is not possible to ascertain……whether or not the Flambeau Mine has had….an impact on macroinvertebrate biota in the Flambeau River.

In addition, the lack of follow-up studies on the fate of endangered species identified in and around the Flambeau River prior to mining is unacceptable.

There is enough evidence however to suggest that there were declines in some macroinvertebrate species downstream from the mine during the course of its operation … While it is not possible to identify the Flambeau Mine itself as the cause of these changes, or a significant cause of several, it is also not possible to say with any reasonable certainty that the Flambeau Mine did not play a part, however slight or however significant, in these observed changes.

Exactly what the changes in the macroinvertebrate communities have been, and how long they might last, is difficult to say unless the river continues to be carefully monitored and study design issues are resolved. To have a better understanding of possible effects visavis any future mining projects in Wisconsin, the biomonitoring protocols should be improved with consideration of the recommendations noted [in the present report], including especially the reliability of the data as reported and the inclusion of studies to evaluate the fate of any threatened or endangered species identified at the project site.”

What the future holds for macroinvertebrates in the Flambeau River is unknown. Polluted groundwater from the Flambeau Mine site continues to enter the river through fractured bedrock, but, with the end of mandatory macroinvertebrate monitoring in 2008, FMC is now “off the hook.”

To see the macroinvertebrate data submitted by Flambeau Mining Company to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and various reports compiled by the company and others, click on the below links:

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