formats

Protect the Peaks Letters to USDA: Protect the Holy San Francisco Peaks, Terminate Snowbowl’s Special Use Permit for Higher Public Purpose

Facebook Twitter Email

Please join us in calling on the Obama administration to terminate the special use permit for AZ Snownbowl.

Use the below letter for reference, please make your own comments and send to the contacts below.

DATE: Friday, September 21, 2012

 

Tom Vilsack

Secretary of Agriculture

U.S. Department of Agriculture

1400 Independence Ave., S.W.

Washington, DC 20250

agsec@usda.gov

 

CC: Janie Hipp

Senior Adviser for Tribal Affairs USDA

janie.hipp@osec.usda.gov

 

CC: Earl Stewart

Forest Supervisor, Coconino National Forest

 

CC: Dion Killsback

Counselor to the Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs

1849 C Street, NW, MS 4141-MIB, Washington, DC 20240.

consultation@bia.gov

 

 

RE: Protect the Holy San Francisco Peaks, Terminate Snowbowl’s Special Use Permit for Higher Public Purpose

 

Dear Secretary Vilsack,

 

We, the undersigned, are deeply disappointed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s role in the desecration of the San Francisco Peaks located in Northern Arizona. Arizona Snowbowl is currently proceeding with expansion that includes snowmaking with treated sewage effluent on the Holy San Francisco Peaks. This action is in blatant disregard for Indigenous People’s deeply held cultural & religious beliefs, community health, and the environmental integrity of the sensitive mountain ecosystem.

 

The desecration the Holy Peaks is in direct contradiction of President Obama’s 2008 campaign promise to support “legal protections for sacred places and cultural traditions, including Native ancestors’ burial grounds and churches.”

 

Snowbowl is a private, for profit, ski area using the San Francisco Peaks under a Special Use Permit (SUP) issued by the U.S. Forest Service. The expansion of this small scale privately owned ski resort and wastewater snowmaking is not in the public’s greatest interest.

 

The Snowbowl expansion serves the special interests of Snowbowl owners and recreationists.

 

Section VIII(A) of the Special Use Permit is titled “Termination for a Higher Public Purpose”.  Provides that “if the public interest requires termination”, the Secretary of Agriculture can terminate the permit and pay for only the improvements.

 

Consider these Higher Public Purposes:

 

- Cultural survival of 13 Indigenous Nations comprising more than 500,000 members.

- Sustaining the natural landscape for future generations to enjoy.

- De-escalation of threat to endangered species and their critical habitat.

- Historic preservation

- Legacy of respect

- Improved relations with diverse cultures & upholding trust responsibilities

- Protecting rare sacred & holy places

 

We firmly believe that if the SUP for Snowbowl ski area was terminated it would result in:

 

- Greater regional tourism

- Other forms of low-impact outdoor recreation

- Nature education opportunities for children

- Greater security for the existence of threatened and endangered species

- Improved relations with diverse cultures

 

 

The Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) reveals:

 

  • The ski area plan would “further contaminate the spiritual purity of the entire Peaks beyond the historic and existing levels.” – Final Environmental Impact Statement Vol 1 Page 3-18

 

  • “Snowmaking and expansion of facilities, especially the use of reclaimed water, would contaminate the natural resources needed to perform the required ceremonies that have been, and continue to be, the basis for the cultural identity for many of these tribes.” – Final Environmental Impact Statement Vol 1 Page 3-18

 

  • “The proposed action would represent the highest degree of potential disproportionate adverse impact to Native American cultures.” – Final Environmental Impact Statement Vol 1 Page 3-370

 

In August 2011 an Urgent Action / Early Warning Complaint was filed with the United Nations (UN) CERD Committee, on the desecration of Sacred San Francisco Peaks, Arizona. The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, known internationally as the CERD Committee is charged with monitoring compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD).

 

CERD Chairperson Alexei Avtonomov has responded to the complaint with a letter to the U.S. in March 2012, “The Committee requests information on concrete measures taken to ensure that the sacred character of [the San Francisco Peaks] for indigenous peoples are respected, including the possibility of suspending the permit granted to the Arizona Snowbowl, to further consult with indigenous peoples and take into account their concerns and religious traditions.”

 

The current Draft Report on Sacred Sites goes to great lengths to explain the public outcry about the plan to use treated sewage effluent to make snow to “provide a consistent and reliable ski season” for Arizona Snowbowl. It states that a good way to build trust with the tribes is to try to reverse some of the damage caused by poorly made decisions to desecrate sacred sites.

 

However, even as the 60 day public comment period began for the Draft Report on Sacred Sites, Arizona Snowbowl was busy clearcutting 40 acres of rare alpine forest and laying a pipeline to carry treated sewer water roughly 15 miles up the Mountain to make fake snow.

 

The very mountain your own reports seem to want to protect–as a show of trust–is being absolutely devastated by Arizona Snowbowl in an apparent effort to circumvent this same sacred sites report and pending lawsuits against the project. And in essence goes quite a way in destroying any hopes of trust in the future. How can the USDA engage in a process to fix sacred sites protection policies while the San Francisco Peaks, holy to 13 Indigenous Nations, are currently being desecrated?

 

We urge you to take the following steps to protect the San Francisco Peaks:

  • Immediately create a moratorium on all construction on the San Francisco Peaks until the Sacred Sites Report is finalized and you are able to read it and make informed decisions.

 

  • Terminate Snowbowl’s Special Use Permit (SUP) and make it part of the Kachina Peaks Wilderness Area.

 

  • Above all please do not allow treated sewage effluent to be sprayed on the Holy San Francisco Peaks.

 

It should also be noted that the 2004 Memorandum of Agreement between the Forest Service and multiple tribal governments has been violated without any recourse by the Coconino National Forest.

We additionally urge you to uphold previous agreements with Indigenous Nations and maintain oversight and protections of Indigenous interests in this matter.

 

Neither the asserted “improved skiing experience,” nor the undisclosed economic benefit to Arizona Snowbowl Resort Limited Partnership, can legitimately justify the devastating impact this project has on the Indigenous Nations and on the individuals that hold the San Francisco Peaks sacred.

 

By focusing narrowly on a purpose and need to improve Snowbowl’s financial viability, the FS simply uses the National Environmental Policy Act process to overcome any and all obstacles relative to that goal, including identified irreversible and irretrievable impacts to the environment and disproportionally adverse effects to Native Americans. The agency has stated its goals so narrowly that there are actually no environmentally benign alternatives that can accomplish them. Indeed, the only alternative considered that could meet these goals was the selected Alternative 2.

 

The Forest Service is mandated with providing recreation but recreation can be experience elsewhere on nearby public lands or in other low-impact and more culturally sensitive and respectful ways.

The Forest Service is charged with stewardship of millions of acres of public lands, surely there are other places to recreate. Indigenous religious practices cannot make the same accommodation. Sacred places, such as the San Francisco Peaks, are unique and rare.

 

Moral duty, respect, and ecological integrity are mandates of the highest purpose. We urge you to do everything in your power to protect this ecologically and culturally significant site.

 

Sincerely,

Protect the Peaks Volunteers

 

###

 

                        September 21, 2012

 

 

 

Tom Vilsack

Secretary of Agriculture

U.S. Department of Agriculture

1400 Independence Ave., S.W.

Washington, DC 20250

Email: agsec@usda.gov

 

CC: Janie Hipp

Senior Adviser for Tribal Affairs USDA

janie.hipp@osec.usda.gov

 

CC: Earl Stewart

Forest Supervisor, Coconino National Forest

 

CC: Dion Killsback

Counselor to the Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs

1849 C Street, NW, MS 4141-MIB, Washington, DC 20240.

consultation@bia.gov

 

Dear Secretary Vilsack,

 

We, the undersigned, are parents, activists, and citizens of Flagstaff, Arizona who are extremely concerned about the situation on the San Francisco Peaks that is being forced onto our community by Arizona Snowbowl. The expansion of the ski resort is a loss for future generations of the Peaks’ beautiful and rare alpine habitat.

 

Snowbowl expansion and snowmaking with treated sewage is a severe desecration of this holy site.

By continued sanctioning of Snowbowl expansion, the Forest Service demonstrates extreme cultural intolerance to over thirteen Indigenous Nations that hold the Peaks holy. The USDA & Forest Service continue to discriminate and disregard these grave impacts despite concerns voiced through numerous petitions, protests, lawsuits, and public hearings.

 

We are also extremely worried about the threat to the health of our children, our water, and the local environment from the run-off of reclaimed wastewater snow, especially in such large, focused quantities, which Snowbowl plans to do by creating artificial snow from reclaimed wastewater by this November.

 

The San Francisco Peaks are a sky island, home to a wide variety of plant and animal species, like the endangered San Francisco Peaks Ragwort which is endemic to the mountain.  We are especially concerned about the cutting of old growth trees, which will never return in our lifetimes. The newly cut “ski runs” are huge swaths of un-vegetated land which have the potential to become devastating mudslides during our monsoon season. We worry that the fragmentation and disturbance of wildlife that is occurring especially during the construction and the destruction of the forest will lead to a decline in animal populations and biodiversity in the area. This fragile high desert ecosystem is also visited throughout the year for a variety of reasons aside from skiing; such as camping, hiking, biking, and school science field trips, amongst other practices in lieu of the second paragraph. These other recreational activities help to keep the local economy going all year long and are so appealing because these lands are not developed.

 

The reclaimed water that Snowbowl intends to use to create their “snow” has been shown to contain endocrine disruptors and other contaminants not even fully understood by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ). This has been shown in a study called the ”Endocrine Disruptor Screening Project” by Dr. Cathy Propper, a biologist at the Northern Arizona University.  An even more recent study by Dr. Robin Silver on the same reclaimed water currently being used on our city parks and school athletic fields has found antibiotic resistant genes and shows that they actually rebound, or are much more prominent, at the site of usage. This leaves us very concerned for children, the ill, and the elderly, and other compromised immune systems, who may play in or possibly consume this toxic concoction. The reclaimed wastewater also will further taint the aquifer and continually diminish the quality and safety of our drinking water supply. There are claims that this water is safe, but why are there signs around the city stating not to consume the water? And if it is so safe, why would use it to make snow when it’s expected that Flagstaff will experience water shortages in close to a decade? It becomes more apparent that these motifs are strictly economic, prioritizing tourism and sport over the healthy and socially balanced communities. Although NAU’s Chemistry Department publicly endorses the reclaimed wastewater, John Wettaw, a chemistry professor and previous Arizona Senator, has outside relationships with one of the owners of Snowbowl, which leads us to think their opinion is skewed.

 

Lastly, but certainly not least, we are extremely concerned about how Snowbowl is disrespecting the religious and cultural beliefs of those who hold the San Francisco Peaks sacred.  It is sickening how they have been allowed to put their business interests over the cultural, religious, and historical significance of this mountain. It is disgusting how certain religions are regarded as more valid than another (analogous to allowing someone to mix filtered sewage in the holy water at the Vatican, but this is essentially what the Arizona Snowbowl is attempting to do by putting this poorly evaluated wastewater on the Peaks). This issue has divided our community and has been extremely painful to members of Indigenous Nations who live here and who define most of Northern Arizona.

 

We urge that you do something to change this situation immediately by giving the San Francisco Peaks Traditional Cultural Property designation. Section VIII(A) of the Special Use Permit is titled “Termination for a Higher Public Purpose”.  It provides that “if the public interest requires termination”, the Secretary of Agriculture can terminate the permit and pay for only the improvements. How is the cultural integrity of more than thirteen Indigenous Nations not considered higher public purpose? This question is not rhetorical; we demand an answer from the US Forest Service as to why they continually marginalize peoples’ human rights by perpetuating such flagrant racism.

 

Here are alternative ways to end what is happening on the San Francisco Peaks and within our community:

 

⁃  Amend the Special Use Permit to exclude wastewater snowmaking, in lieu of numerous studies showing it to be hazardous to humans and fragile ecosystems.

⁃  Create new legislation or amend current legislation to guarantee protection for sacred places and religious freedom for Indigenous Peoples.

 

Stop the Arizona Snowbowl from desecrating our environment, health, and community all for the sake of greed for a small, privileged group; uphold human rights for all people! Keep our public lands public.

 

 

 

 

Sincerely,

 

Protect the Peaks Volunteers

 

 

Home News Protect the Peaks Letters to USDA: Protect the Holy San Francisco Peaks, Terminate Snowbowl’s Special Use Permit for Higher Public Purpose
hosting
© 2012 Protect the Peaks