Northern Michigan Savage Church leader works to protect ancient forest at proposed rocket launch site – Episcopal News Service

UP Wild Church gathers atop the Huron Mountains, a few miles from the proposed rocket launch site. Photo: Makari Rising

[Episcopal News Service] The leader of a northern Michigan religious community is fighting to protect the natural area where members worship from becoming a rocket launch site. Not only would the proposed facility affect their spiritual connection to the land, she says, but it would also threaten the ancient trees that have grown there for hundreds of years.

UP Wild Churcha ministry of the Diocese of Northern Michigan, in conjunction with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Great Lakes Synod of North America, conducts non-denominational prayer services in nature and nature walks in the abundant natural settings of the Upper Peninsula: its pine forests, inland lakes and the shores of Lake Superior.

But in addition to providing a natural refuge from the chaos of modern life, UP Wild Church also engages with the environmental crises that threaten these places, educating people about past and present industrial destruction. They now face their most pressing challenge yet. The proposed facility, the Michigan Launch Initiative, would be built on private land directly adjacent to one of their places of worship.

For the past four years, UP Wild Church has met about three times a month, mostly around Marquette, though it is expanding into other areas, founder Lanni Lantto said. Meeting throughout the year, the group has about 30 regular participants.

Last December, UP Wild Church held a service called Going Deeper with Christ in a publicly accessible ancient forest on the shore of Lake Superior, just outside Marquette. Some of the trees are estimated to be 200 to 400 years old, Lantto said.

“Those trees were beautiful,” she told Episcopal News Service. “We had this transformative experience. And I realized there were old shoots right there. I have lived here all my life. I’m 42 and didn’t know it was 10, 15 mins from town.

Ancient trees are rare on the Upper Peninsula due to the prolific logging industry there. This particular area was left relatively untouched as the rocky, boulder-strewn shore of the lake made access difficult.

“We really fall in love again and honor how sacred these places are,” Lantto said.

Because of this discovery, Lantto joined the Old Growth Forest Network, a nonprofit group that identifies and attempts to preserve old-growth forests across the country, becoming their coordinator for Marquette County. So when news broke of a proposed rocket launch site a mile and a half from where the group gathered for their December service, she was immediately concerned.

The Michigan Launch Initiative site, planned by the Michigan Aerospace Manufacturers Association (MAMA), would be used to launch commercial satellites into orbit. Private spaceports are an increasingly large and competitive industry, and state and local governments are vying to attract investors in hopes of creating jobs in their communities.

But as the industry has grown, so too has opposition to the sites on environmental grounds. Critics have pointed to the ecological damage already caused by some of the new launch sites. The US Fish and Wildlife Service has determined that SpaceX rocket launches at its Texas spaceport have caused a decline in Piping Plovers – an endangered shorebird species – in the surrounding area and have also potentially harmed others. shorebirds and sea turtles.

In the Upper Peninsula, environmental concerns include threats such as the spread of toxic materials in the region and failed rocket launches falling into Lake Superior. But the biggest ecological concern for Lantto is the risk of a forest fire destroying the irreplaceable ancient trees around the site. In September, a rocket launch at the SpaceX site in Texas sparked a wildfire that burned 68 acres of protected wildlife sanctuary land.

According to the proposal, an evacuation zone would be set up around the launch site, which would encompass much of the old growth forest, including some of the sites where UP Wild Church meets. That means they couldn’t meet there every time a rocket launch happened, Lantto said.

“When they proposed to put the rocket launch site right in the middle of this, the Wild Church community was very concerned, not only because these are the places we are going, but this old growth is a benefit for our community at large. and for the generations of our children. We can’t help but feel like we have to protect it.

In her capacity as OGFN County Coordinator, Lantto worked with a private landowner in the area to dedicate 92 acres of old-growth forest to preservation through the network. The move ensures that part of the affected area will be protected from development, and was also intended to draw attention to the threat posed by the launch site.

Lantto said she and the other UP Wild Church and OGFN members who work with her are not opposed to the rocket industry itself; they are simply claiming that this site is in the wrong place.

“We’re entering this new era of commercial space enterprise and we don’t really have a plan for it,” she told ENS. “We never really got into that. And for a Christian, we say as a church, how do we approach the future of technology and how does that affect us and how does that affect our ecosystem? »

At this point, Lantto and other local residents, including some Wild Church members, are focused on raising awareness of the threat to the old growth in their backyard. The business alliance developing the site is in the early stages of licensing.

“For the Wild Church members who have taken this on, it’s very important to them because it’s part of our stewardship as Christians,” she said. “These are sacred and holy places that God gave us and only a part of them remains.”

– Egan Millard is associate editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be contacted at [email protected]

Jerry B. Hatch