Keep the University of Florida OFF Mount Graham!!
November/December 1996

The University of Florida is considering involvement in the controversial Columbus Telescope Project planned for Mount Graham in Arizona. Opposed by almost every U.S. conservation group and American Indian tribe, the Mt. Graham Telescope project would destroy one quarter of the oldgrowth spruce/fir forest on Mount Graham's summit and would effectively prevent traditional Apache people from practicing their religion.

Mount Graham is home to 18 endemnic (found nowhere else on Earth!) plants and animals, including the federally listed Endangered Mount Graham Red Squirrel. Mount Graham rises like an island of forest out of the Sonoran desert below, and provides a cool and wet refuge for flora and fauna at the top. Walking from bottom to top in one day, a foraging Black Bear will encounter flora representative of five of the seven major North American life zones (the equivalent of walking from the Mexican to Canadian border). In fact, a bear can spend its whole life in just one drainage on Mount Graham because of this diversity. Historically home to grizzly and wolf, Mount Graham still supports healthy populations of predators and is a major wildlife corridor in the southwest. Telescope construction would fragment habitat for endangered species and introduce year round traffic, toxic chemicals, electric power lines and thousands of people to pristine watersheds and isolated and wild forest.

Known as Dzil Nchaa Si An, or "Big Seated Mountain," Mount Graham is the central sacred mountain to the San Carlos Apache people. It is still a site of ceremonies and is revered in song and stories as the place of creation for the Apache. Apache medicine men and women have long opposed the construction of telescopes on Mount Graham because it will "interfere with the ability of traditional Apache to practice their religion." The San Carlos Apache Tribal Council has passed numerous resolutions condemning the telescope as "an act of profound disrespect." Tribal historians are fighting to have Apache cultural property respected and other traditionalists have filed lawsuits to try to stop the desecration of Dzil Nchaa Si An. The Apache are currently locked out of the top of the mountain and forbidden to conduct ceremonies or collect medicinal water and plants.

The telescope project's sponsor, the University of Arizona (UA), has been less than sensitive to the environmental and cultural concerns over building telescopes on Mount Graham. The UA is the first and only university to oppose the listing of an endangered species (the Mount Graham Red Squirrel), to oppose native American religious freedom in a court of law, and to seek an exemption from all environmental and cultural protection laws. In 1988, the UA spent over $1 million to lobby for the Arizona-Idaho Conservation Act which granted UA an exemption from the Endangered Species Act, National Environmental Policy Act and the National Historic Preservation Act in order to realize their telescope development. This law was based on fraudulent biology (to date there has never been a complete environmental impact statement done on the telescopes) and effectively shuts Apache and environmental opposition out of the lawful process for public lands management. A federal judged likened the UA to a greedy developer when they illegally clearcut virgin forest on Mount Graham's summit in a desperate effort to keep their foreign investors on board and prevent Apache and environmental lawsuits from slowing their construction. Telescope opponents obtained through a lawsuit details of the UA plan to marginalize Apache opposition through a divide and conquer strategy which made traditional Apache practitioners "isolated outliers" of the tribe.

The UA is desperately seeking funding for the Columbus Telescope and therefore is courting the University of Florida to join in. Although UF astronomers and administrators insist that UF is not committed to joining the project, documents received through public records requests have shown that they are indeed considering a partnership in this project. As much as $9 million would be needed to be a partner in the Columbus Telescope and annual maintenance fees run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. To date over 25 North American universities and institutions have withdrawn from the Mount Graham International Observatory. They have joined other projects on the many alternative, less sensitive sites. Only foreign investors (the Vatican, and German and Italian governments) who are insensitive to the violations of U.S. law remain involved. In joining the Columbus Telescope Project UF would become the only American institution to condone the unethical behavior of the University of Arizona and associate itself with the serious environmental and cultural problems surrounding the the Mount Graham International Observatory.

Please send letters of protest to:

Dr. John Lombardi
President, University of Florida
266 Tigert Hall
Gainesville, FL 32611

Dr. Stanley Dermott
Chairman, Department of Astronomy
POB 112055
Gainesville, FL 32611

Elizabeth Lindsay
Chairman, Board of Regents
POB 3729
Sarasota, FL 34230

For more information:
UF Environmental Action Group, Box 56 JWRU, Gainesville, FL 32611, 392-1665x325
Mount Graham Coalition, POB 1891, Tucson, AZ 85702, (520)322-9819
Apache Survival Coalition, POB 1237, San Carlos, AZ 85550

previous article [current issue] next article
Search | Archives | Calendar | Directory | About / Subscriptions |

Valid HTML 4.01 Transitional eXTReMe Tracker