How They Wrecked Wisconsin | Letters | Chicago Reader

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How They Wrecked Wisconsin

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To the editors:

Jerry Sullivan's Field & Street column has always been a favorite of mine, and the September 25 issue was special for me. He pointed to the devastation of my native upper Wisconsin by the lumber barons--an area that was described in a time when a squirrel leaping from tree to tree could make its way from upper Michigan across Wisconsin to Minnesota without once touching the ground.

In the period from 1885 to 1920 that area was mercilessly cleared, leaving cutover land with huge tracts of rocky and stump-filled soil unsuitable for farming. From bustling towns busy with logging and milling, the only source of income in Forest County became tourism. The story was that in Crandon, the county seat, there was $5.98 in circulation during the fall and winter--until some bastard would send it off to "Sears & Sawbuck" and then it would be a wait for the tourists to show up.

By 1930 the area was comparable to Appalachia. The Depression's effect was minimal--as in big city ghettoes, the people's conditions couldn't be worsened economically. Fish and wild game, especially venison, sustained many. Game wardens were extremely lenient. When FDR's New Deal finally came to the rescue, 91 percent of the county's residents were on relief. As Sullivan notes, the area has never recovered.

Now the Bush administration is planning on opening millions of acres of national park, forest, and other public lands to strip-mining for coal. Anything for profit and to hell with the environment!

Hank Oettinger

W. Grace

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