Tribal leaders vow to fight Snowbowl decision

Leaders of the Hopi and Navajo Tribes expressed frustration but were not shocked by the U.S. Forest Service regional office affirming an earlier decision to expand the Arizona Snowbowl and allow artificial snowmaking.

"I am disappointed but not at all surprised at this latest decision of the Forest Service to uphold the desecration of Nuvatukyaovi (the San Francisco Peaks)," Chairman Wayne Taylor said. "It became evident early on in the process that federal authorities were ignoring the deeply felt concerns of the Hopi Tribe and all native nations.--It is our duty and obligation to protect and preserve the spiritual integrity of Nuvatukyaovi and we will never give up in our efforts to do so."

In March, the Coconino National Forest Service approved the expansion plans that call for artificial snowmaking using treated wastewater piped from Flagstaff. The Hopi Tribe had previously advised the forest service that limiting development and changes on the Peaks is a primary and overriding interest of the Hopi people, and the Hopi Tribe therefore opposed all elements of the proposed action. The Tribe supported the "no action" alternative of the Forest Service.

The 777-acre ski area is surrounded on three sides by the 18,963-acre Kachina Peaks Wilderness, which was designated by the U.S. Congress in 1984.

Taylor and Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley, Jr., said they would continue the fight to preserve what they consider to be sacred peaks.

"To Native Americans, desecrating the San Francisco Peaks with wastewater is like flushing the Qur'an down the toilet," Shirley said. "The federal government is ignoring the pleas and wishes of the Native people.

"We see other people go to war for their way of life, their essence. Here, though, the federal government is ignoring the pleas and wishes of the Native people."

Southwestern Regional Forester Harv Forsgren affirmed the decision for the Snowbowl Facilities Improvement Project on the Coconino National Forest (NF) by Forest Supervisor Nora Rasure on June 9. This project authorizes ski area improvements and is consistent with the Coconino NF Plan as amended with the exception of cutting 11 trees in the Mexican spotted owl protected activity center. The operators of the Snowbowl are allowed to begin projects beginning June 30.

The regional office stated "the study and decision documents acknowledge significant tribal concerns for the spiritual values and religious beliefs and practices associated with the San Francisco Peaks. This decision does not preclude the continued use of the San Francisco Peaks for religious beliefs and practices, and does not violate First Amendment rights."

As stated in the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), the overall purpose and need for the projects is to provide a consistent/reliable operating season, and to improve safety, skiing conditions, and recreational opportunities by bringing terrain and infrastructure into balance with existing demand. The environmental analysis of the Snowbowl Facilities Improvement Project was thorough, reasoned, and in line with environmental laws and regulations.

Save the Peaks Coalition, Sierra Club, Flagstaff Activist Network, Center for Biological Diversity and ECHOES joined the Tribes in condemning the ski resort expansion.--

"Today (Thursday), the Regional Forester affirms government policy of racial intolerance and perpetuates the slow murder of Native American cultures through its decision to allow the desecration of the Sacred San Francisco Peaks," said Jeneda Benally of the Save the Peaks Coalition. "We will not stand by and witness the destruction of our church for greed and recreation. We urge all those who value human rights to stand with us in this struggle for justice and respect."

For more information about the appeal, visit the USDA Forest Service, Southwestern Region Web site at www.fs.fed.us/r3/appeals/forest_coconino/forest_coc_index.htm and scroll down to the bottom of the page.

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