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Protest Bruce Babbitt at the Oakland Zoo. 1:00 PM

Friday, November 11, 2005
1:00 PM - 4:00 PM
Event Type:
Location Details:
Friday, 1:00 at The Oakland Zoo Marian Zimmer Auditorium
9777 Golf Links Road, Oakland, CA 94605

Bruce Babbitt, former U.S. Secretary of the Interior
presents Cities in the Wilderness, A New Vision of Land Use in America

Friday, 1:00 at The Oakland Zoo Marian Zimmer Auditorium
9777 Golf Links Road, Oakland, CA 94605

In his book Babbitt challenges the government to consider further
legislation to combat the threat of urban sprawl. Please join Secretary
Babbitt as he explores the need for unified national land use policy
while maintianing local control.

Free and open to the public.

San Francisco Peaks

>From many places in northern Arizona, the horizon is dramatically marked
by three 12,000-foot volcanic peaks that rise out of the Colorado
Plateau south of the Grand Canyon and north of Flagstaff. The San
Francisco Peaks are sacred to 13 tribes. For the Navajo, the Peaks are
the sacred mountain of the west, Doko’oo’sliid, “Shining On Top,” a key
boundary marker and a place where medicine men collect herbs for
healing ceremonies. To the Hopi, the Peaks are Nuvatukaovi, “The Place
of Snow on the Very Top,” home for half of the year to the ancestral
kachina spirits who live among the clouds around the summit. When
properly honored through song and ceremony, the kachinas bring gentle
rains to thirsty corn plants. The peaks are one of the “sacred places
where the Earth brushes up against the unseen world,” in the words of
Yavapai-Apache Chairman Vincent Randall.

History of the Conflict

The San Francisco Peaks, part of the Coconino National Forest, have long
been the source of land-use conflicts. Starting in the late 1800s, the
area was extensively logged and grazed. At the same time, the area’s
dramatic beauty attracted tourists and the pull for recreational use
has not ceased. The area is under the domain of the U.S. Forest
Service, which has a mandate to allow multiple uses on its lands.
Consequently, the Forest Service allowed the construction of a ski
lodge and access road on its northern slopes in the 1930s. Full-scale
development—with shops, restaurants and lodges—was first proposed in
1969, but the opposition of several tribes and community groups
prevented this initial project.

However, in 1979, the Forest Service approved a new lodge, a paved road
and expanded parking, four new lifts and fifty acres of trails to be
added to the existing ski area, which would grow to 777 acres. The
Native people in the area protested that this invasion imperiled their
religious freedom. As the chairman of the Hopi tribe warned, “If the
ski resort remains or is expanded, our people will not accept the view
that this is the sacred home of the Kachinas. The basis of our
existence will become a mere fairy tale.” Despite Hopi and Navajo
protests, the Forest Service regional supervisor in 1980 approved the
paving of an access road into the Peaks. The Hopi and Navajo filed
separate lawsuits to stop the development, while the Forest Service
argued that religious rights would be unimpeded, and even facilitated,
by the ski lifts. Three years later (the suits having been consolidated
into one case, Wilson v. Block), the Hopi and Navajo were unable to
convince the District of Columbia Circuit Court that the Peaks were
"indispensable" to their religions, and the suit was denied. According
to the judge, permitting the Ski Bowl expansion may have "offended"
their beliefs, but the Forest Service had faithfully met all the
provisions of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978.

In the 1980s, the fashion for “stone-washed” denim jeans added another
layer to the jumble of land use claims at the San Francisco Peaks. The
White Vulcan Pumice Mine, 7500 feet up on the eastern slopes of the
mountain, supplied pumice, which is used to create the “stone-washed”
denim effect, and is also used in cement and agriculture. Pumice mining
is a destructive process which involves completely removing all
vegetation and topsoil. The 90 acre mine was operated by Tufflite until
August 28th, 2000 when the federal government brokered an agreement
with the company. The process was spurred by Tufflite’s proposal to
expand the mine and a Forest Service lawsuit which alleged violations
of the Clean Water Act and destruction or damage of archaeological
sites. Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt was a key player in the
process, advocating for the closure of the mine. Tufflite agreed to
shut the mine in 6 months, and restore the site within 5 years. The
company also gave up its other 49 mining claims and its effort to sell
some of the mine to a private buyer. In return the government dropped
the lawsuit and paid Tufflite $1 million.

Current Status

The Forest Service went further when it recommended to Secretary Babbitt
that 74,000 acres of the Peaks be protected from all new mining claims
for 20 years. It has also petitioned to have the area designated a
Traditional Cultural Property under Section 106 of the National
Historic Preservation Act. As a Traditional Cultural Property, the San
Francisco Peaks would be permanently shielded from mining.

The present-day Arizona Snow Bowl ski area hosts 30,000 to 180,000
visitors per year. Visitor numbers fluctuate according to the snowfall;
hence the resort is seeking to manufacture extra snow using wastewater
from the city of Flagstaff. Once again, area tribes and community
members are working together to fight this proposal. Because the
natural melting snow goes into an aquifer within the mountain which is
then piped to provide water for Flagstaff, they fear the waste water in
the manufactured snow will pollute the pure mountain water.

The Snowbowl Resort also stated in 1997 that it wanted to add another 66
acres of trails and a major upgrade of existing ski runs, relying on
the precedent of the 1979 Forest Service decision. The snow-making
proposal and expansion plans are now being considered by the Coconino
National Forest, subject to a full environmental investigation as
stipulated in the National Environmental Policy Act. The first step in
this process occurred in September 2002 when the Forest released a
Proposed Action in response to the Arizona Snowbowl’s proposal. This
will be followed by an Environmental Impact Statement, an investigation
of alternatives and public hearings.

Lessons Learned

The history and ongoing conflict at the San Francisco Peaks is a good
example of the sometimes contradictory positions taken by a single
government agency, and the potential influence of community pressure.
The Forest Service has gone from encouraging skiing outright to
nominating the area for permanent protected status to considering
resort expansions. By subjecting the new proposal to full environmental
review, the Forest Service is at least giving room for public comment
on the future of the mountain. The story highlights the effectiveness
of local coalitions of tribal groups, activists, and ordinary citizens.
This coalition is also active in the fight to stop Peabody Coal
Company’s depletion of the aquifer beneath Black Mesa.

However, it also illustrates the limitations of the American Indian
Religious Freedom Act. AIRFA’s wording has been interpreted narrowly by
the courts; in the example of the San Francisco Peaks, because the ski
resort did not prevent the tribes from practicing their religion, the
court found that the legislation did not apply. There is no provision
for a substantial negative impact on religious practices. In addition,
AIRFA is more effective when a specific site can be designated, such as
a shrine, but the act is unable to take into account situations which
involve an entire landscape, as is often the case with sacred places.
The Peaks are a classic example of a large area—the center of a 100
mile radius landscape—which has been used by more than a dozen tribes
over centuries, including foot trails, shrines, and view sheds. Due to
the weaknesses of AIRFA, the Section 106 process of National Historic
Preservation Act may be the best protection at the moment. In the long
term, it points to the need for a new, stronger sacred law to protect
sacred landscapes.

Finally, the mining at the San Francisco Peaks is another example of the
urgent need for a revision of the antiquated 1872 Mining Law, which
allows companies to mine on public land for minimal or no fees.

Reprinted from
Added to the calendar on Fri, Nov 11, 2005 12:00AM
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