Paramilitary armed guards, death threats, standoffs. It’s not what you might expect amid the peaceful greenery of northern Wisconsin, but it’s that greenery, and what lies below, that has led to an intense battle over land, water and jobs.

It all began when a company called Gogebic Taconite, or G-Tac, got permission to test the soil in northern Wisconsin’s Penokee Hills area for minerals, including iron ore. The company eventually wants to carve a 4-mile open pit mine through the heavily wooded area.

G-Tac has leased thousands of acres of land in Wisconsin’s Iron County, an area which is popular with hikers in the summer and snowmobilers in the winter. Terms of the lease still allow the public to access the area.

Many of those who live in the economically depressed towns nearby said they support the company’s efforts and look forward to the potential for much-needed jobs and growth in the region. Dozens of signs are posted on lawns in the small city of Hurley with messages like “Mines mean jobs” and “Mining is our History” and “Say yes to mining.”