Chronology: 1629 –2011

Protecting the San Francisco Peaks

The San Francisco Peaks have been held sacred, since time immemorial, by the Navajo, Hopi, Zuni, Tewa, Haulapai, Havasupai, Yavapai-Apache, Yavapai-Prescott, Tonto Apache, White Mountain Apache, San Carlos Apache, San Juan Southern Pauite, Fort Mcdowell Mohave Apache, and Acoma.

All tribes traditionally hold that if this Sacred Mountain is disturbed by any means, their ways of life are violated.

The Hopi and Navajo Tribes have historically objected to any development that has had the potential for disturbing this sacred mountain.

1629: Franciscan Friars name the mountain range, “The San Francisco Peaks,” in honor of St. Francis, their patron saint of ecology.

1862: The Homestead Act offered 160 acres of free land in the West to settlers willing to move and live on the homestead. This law led to 270 million acres of land passing into private hands.

Late 1800s: First Anglo occupation of the present day Flagstaff area, leading to the persecution and forced removal of many Native Americans from the area. Early settlers primarily viewed the extensive forests of the San Francisco Peaks region exclusively for their economic value.

1924: United States Congress grants Native Americans the rights of citizenship, including the right to vote, however Arizona does not recognize the native right to vote until much later. 

1930s: Several enthusiasts started using an old cabin in Hart Prairie as a base for skiing

1934: United States Congress passes the Indian Reorganization Act to replace policies of assimilation and the breakup of tribal lands with the promotion of tribal cultures and purchase of lands. Elected tribal councils are given power to handle their budgets, hire attorneys and incorporate.

1935: The Historic Sites Act calls for the preservation of significant national, historical and archaeological properties, the designation and acquisition of national historic landmarks and a survey of valuable historic and prehistoric sites.

1937-38: The Coconino National Forest built a ski lodge at the present location of Snowbowl Ski Resort, as well as an access road. At the same time, the Flagstaff Ski Club was formed and operated there under permit from the Forest Service until 1941.

1941: The Ski Club’s “improvements” were purchased by Arnal Corporation.

1948: Arizona finally grants Native Americans the right to vote.

The 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights declares that freedom of religion is a fundamental human right. Article 18 reads: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”

1952: The base lodge is destroyed in a fire. 1954: Road leading to ski area is extended to the site of the Agassiz Lodge. Agassiz Lodge is built in 1956. Two more lifts are added in 1958 and 1962, but little else is developed.

1956: Present lodge built.

1960s: The United States Forest Service began incorporating a policy of sustained planning and multiple use management in an effort to balance grazing, logging and recreation interests.

1966: Passage of the National Historic Preservation Act strengthens national preservation efforts.

1969: The development of a full-scale ski resort with shops, restaurants and lodges was proposed, community and tribal opposition rose in strong response.

In December 1969, Summit Properties announced its intention to develop a “ski village” on Hart Prairie below SnowBowl. “SnowBowl Village” was to be a 325-acre plot much like Vail or Aspen, Colorado, with restaurants, shops, and lodges near the base of a 5,800-ft. chairlift leading to SnowBowl. It would also include condos, apartments, vacations homes, and even a “championship golf course.”

1969: The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was a Congressional effort to ensure that federal agencies consider the effects of their proposed actions on the environment. This Act created the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), and was followed by other executive orders and implementation documents which elaborate on the specific conditions under which the Act should be used. NEPA was a landmark piece of legislation in that it requires rigorous assessment of both the ecological and cultural impacts of federal undertakings. NEPA specifies that the federal government must “preserve important historic, cultural, and natural aspects of our national heritage.”

1970: Summit properties purchased Snow Bowl from Arnal Corporation.

1971: Coconino County Planning and Zoning Commission approved Summit’s rezoning request to build the “ski village”. It was also approved by the Forest Service, assuming adequate supplies of water were found, though it was not approved by County Board of Supervisors.

1971: President Richard M. Nixon signs Executive Order 11593 — “Protection and Enhancement of the Cultural Environment” — requiring all federal agencies to inventory cultural properties on their lands.

1971: Grassmon Bros. lease property from Forest Service & present plan to upgrade Snowbowl; 6,000 protestors force brothers to pack up; Snowbowl left in receivership. 

1974: The San Francisco Peaks Land Use Plan allocates the Snow Bowl permit area to winter sports development. Ski shop owner Norm Johnson rescues Snowbowl at sheriff’s auction for $500,000.

1974: The Archaeological and Historic Preservation Act is passed requiring all federal agencies to conduct archaeological investigations prior to initiating any project that would disturb or destroy significant cultural remains.

1977: Northland Recreation purchases the ski area and files a master plan to develop the area.

1978: The American Indian Religious Freedom Act (AIRFA) was originally intended to protect all forms of Native American spiritual practices, but the law failed to protect sacred sites in subsequent court tests. AIRFA was a policy statement that had no enforcement power.

1978: Hopi Tribal Council and Navajo Nation submitted comments for the Draft Environmental Impact Statement strongly opposing any development. The Hopi Tribe stated, “it is the policy of the Hopi Tribe to take all appropriate steps to prevent any further development on the sacred mountain, Nuvatukya’ovi.”

1979: Forest Service approves Snowbowl expansion plan to clear cut 50 acres, rebuild chairlift, and add 2 more. 11 administrative appeals & 9,000 protestors follow.

1979: After years of debate, legal action, and government intervention, the Forest Service issued its final decision: a new lodge, four new lifts and fifty acres of trails would be added. Appeals to this decision went as far as the Supreme Court, but were denied.

1979: Flagstaff area residents Dick and Jean Wilson, the Navajo Medicinemen’s Association, and the Hopi Tribe sue Interior Secretary John Block.

1979: The Archaeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA) strengthens protection of archaeological resources on federal lands by clarifying and expanding the Antiquities Act of 1906.

1982: The Hart Prairie chair lift is built. In November, Fairfield Communities purchases area and begins a plan in 1983 that includes the construction of Hart Prairie Lodge, the Sunset chair lift and transfer of the rope tow back to Hart Prairie.

1982-83: DC court upholds Forest Service approval; Supreme Court refuses to hear appeal; Snowbowl in debt for legal fees and is sold to Fairfield for $4 million.

1983: Wilson v. Block [708 F. 2d 735 (1983)], Hopi and Navajo attempt to preclude expansion of the Arizona Snow Bowl ski area in the San Francisco Peaks, near Flagstaff. FN2. The plaintiffs claim that further development of the Snow Bowl could have a serious and adverse impact upon their tribes’ cultures and social organization. Abbott Sekaquaptewa, then-chairman of the Hopi tribe, stated in “Narrative Direct Testimony” submitted to the district court: “It is my opinion that in the long run if the expansion is permitted, we will not be able successfully to teach our people that this is a sacred place. 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 as a society will become a mere fairy tale to our people. If our people no longer possess this long-held belief and way of life, which will inevitably occur with the continued presence of the ski resort … a direct and negative impact upon our religious practices [will result]. The destruction of these practices will also destroy our present way of life and culture.” (Wilson v. Block 1983)

1983: Fairfield builds new lodge and paves the road to ski area.

1984: Congress creates the Kachina Peaks Wilderness outside the ski area boundaries.

1987: Group calling themselves “EMETIC” sabotages ski lift towers, causing $50,000 in damage.

1988: The U.S. Supreme Court hears “Lyng v. Northwest Indian Cemetery Association.” A case brought forward from multiple California tribes objecting to road construction and logging on their sacred lands managed by U.S. Forest Service. In a 5-3 ruling, the justices say the federal government is not violating the tribes’ religious beliefs because it does not coerce the tribal members themselves to do something contrary to their beliefs.

1990: The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) is signed into law by President George Bush providing procedures for determining cultural affinity for the purposes of reburying Native American human remains and returning to the tribes burial artifacts and sacred objects.

1991: Fairfield files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

1992: Scottsdale real estate mogul Eric Borowski buys Snowbowl for $4 million.

1993: Native American Free Exercise of Religion Act was introduced, which included provisions for sacred site protection; however, this was dropped and the section protecting the ceremonial use of peyote use was eventually passed as an amendment to AIRFA in 1994.

1993: Congress passes the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. It states that the US government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion, unless it furthers a compelling government interest, and the action proposed is the least harmful method of proceeding.

1994: Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples at the United Nations is proposed.

1996: Executive Order 13007 instructed every federal agency to evaluate their policies regarding Native American sacred sites. Land managers were ordered to: “(1) accommodate access to and ceremonial use of Indian sacred sites by Indian religious practitioners and (2) avoid adversely affecting the physical integrity of such sacred sites” and to “maintain the confidentiality of sacred sites.”

1997: Snowbowl Resort proposed the addition of another 66 acres of trails, along with major upgrading of existing trails, stating that these developments are within the legal scope of the original 1979 Forest Service decision. However, the Forest Service, at least partially in response to continued opposition from Native Americans and conservationists, has ruled that before any new development is approved, a new Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) must be completed at the resort’s expense.

1998: Resolution of the Navajo Nation Council to Oppose the Desecration of Dook’o’osliid (San Francisco Peaks) also calls to dismantle existing facilities.

1998: A proposal by Tufflite to expand the White Vulcan pumice mine on the San Francisco Peaks served to unite Native Americans and local conservationists in opposition. Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt joined the opposition in early 1999, and on August 28th an agreement was forged between Tufflite and the federal government to close the mine within 6 months, and guarantee full restoration of the site within 5 years. In addition, Tufflite agreed to relinquish all of their 49 mining claims, approximately 8000 acres, and withdraw their pending patent application to turn 20 acres of the mine into private land.

Subject to appropriation by Congress, the government will pay Tufflite $1 million, and dismiss its pending legal action against the company. The Forest Service also recommended to Secretary Babbitt a 74,000-acre mineral withdrawal around the Peaks, which would prevent any new mining claims for 20 years.

Forest Service files a request to designate the peaks as a Traditional Cultural Property.

January 2, 2001 – Bruce Babbitt leaves the department of interior. He later takes a job with Latham and Watkins, a large law firm based in Washington DC.

2002: Snowbowl proposes Ski area expansion that includes expansion, night lighting for night skiing, creating new runs and lifts and snowmaking with treated sewage effluent.

March, 2002: City of Flagstaff agrees to sell Snowbowl 180 million gallons of treated sewage effluent per season for the purpose of making fake snow. 

July, 2002: Sacred land protection legislation was introduced at the federal level and in California. H.R. 5155, The Sacred Lands Protection Act, introduced on July 18, 2002 by Congressman Nick Rahall (D, WV), and S.B. 1828, The Native American Sacred Sites Protection Act, sponsored by State Senator John Burton (D, San Francisco).

2002: Bruce Babbitt hired as legal consultant to Arizona Snowbowl. Tribes express outrage at his “betrayal”.

February 2, 2004: Forest Service issues the Draft Environmental Impact Statement on proposed Snowbowl development which indicates its support for the plan to make snow from reclaimed wastewater, cut 74 acres for trails, add a new lift and expand its existing facilities. 

February 2, 2004: Save the Peaks Coalition formed to address environmental and human rights concerns with Arizona Snowbowl’s proposed developments.

2004: 10,000 public comments received on Draft Environmental Impact statement.

January – February 2005: Memorandum of Agreements (MOAs) signed by USDA, four tribes and Eric Borowsky.

March 8th, 2005: Coconino Forest Supervisor Nora Rasure approved the Snowbowl proposal rejecting numerous administrative appeals.

June 23, 2005: The Sierra Club joins with the Navajo Nation, the Yavapai-Apache Nation, the White Mountain Apache Tribe, the Flagstaff Activist Network and the Center for Biological Diversity in legal action to stop the U.S. Forest Service from allowing the Arizona Snowbowl to expand its operations and extend its season using artificial snowmaking. The Hopi Tribe, DNA People’s Legal Services Inc. representing the Hualapai Tribe, and other tribal individuals also file suits.

2005: Snowbowl Effect documentary produced.

October 12, 2005: Navajo Nation, et al v. USFS, et al trial begins at the U.S. District Court in Prescott, AZ based on lawsuits addressing: that the USFS decision violates the Endangered Species Act, snowmaking will violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the FS decision has disproportional adverse effects on Native Americans, the USFS decision violates the National Historic Preservation Act and that the National Forest Management Act has not been followed. 

January 11, 2006: U.S. District Court Judge Paul Rosenblatt issues decision against tribes and environmental groups in a 62-page ruling.

September 14, 2006: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals hears Oral Arguments in San Francisco, California.

December 13, 2006: In a “behind closed door” deal, the Flagstaff City Water Commission administratively renews its contract to sell reclaimed wastewater to Arizona Snowbowl for snowmaking for 5 more years.

March 12, 2007: The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturns the lower court ruling. This ruling establishes protection for the Sacred San Francisco Peaks from Arizona Snowbowl’s development and wastewater snowmaking plan.

May 30, 2007: the United States Department of Justice on behalf of the Forest Service files for a rehearing and appeal “en banc” in the case to protect the San Francisco Peaks in Northern Arizona.

September 2007: United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The resolution called for recognition of the world’s 370 million indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination and control over their lands and resources. The adoption of this resolution comes after twenty-two years of diplomatic negotiations at the United Nations (UN) involving its member states, international civil society groups, and representatives of the world’s aboriginal communities.

August 2008: the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (the same court who issued the 2007 decision in favor of plaintiff’s the Navajo Nation) re-visited their 2007 decision via an ‘en banc’ hearing and reversed this decision, thus upholding the Forest Service’s decision on Snowbowl.

June 2009: U.S. Supreme Court declines to hear the case. This means the 11-judge decision of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals stands, allowing Snowbowl to start construction.

January 2009: Tribes ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the 9th Circuit’s approval of Snowbowl’s development. Tribes argue the further expansion of the ski area is in substantial conflict with religious beliefs.

September 21, 2009: the Save the Peaks Coalition and 9 plaintiffs filed a new lawsuit on the 2005 Forest Service decision approving artificial snow-making at Snowbowl Ski Area.

January 13, 2010 – Kevin Burke, Eric Borowsky, Joe Stringer, Alan Stephens, Randy Pallatz, and Brad Hill have secret meetings to concoct a way to steal 552 acre feet a year of Flagstaff drinking water and over $11 million dollars of Rural Development grant money. They decide to present Vilsack with and “expanded” water source called “recovered-reclaimed” water.

January 29, 2010 USDA Sacretary, Vilsack sent a letter that announced he will not sign a permit to allow reclaimed wastewater for snowmaking at Snowbowl. Instead it will be from an “expanded” source. He also stated he would order the USDA to “work with the entire community” for the necessary solution.

June 2010 – Kevin Burke, Eric Borowsky, Joe Stringer, Alan Stephens, Randy Pallatz, and Brad Hill work together to keep all community comments from being part of the discussion and secretly decide how to present the entire issue to the Flagstaff Water Commission and City Council without anyone finding out.

July 3, 2010 – Vilsack approves the “recovered-reclaimed” water as the source for snowmaking at Arizona Snwbowl, but has yet to actually sign a permit, pending approval by Flagstaff City Council.

July 29, 2010 – Flagstaff Water Commission, despite having to have a two day public meeting to hear all the outcry against the project, elect to recommend to Council that they should “provide potable water directly from wells.” or reclaimed water.

September 3, 2010 – After a two day meeting, Flagstaff City Council elects to not allow drinking water for snowmaking and denies the paper existence of “recovered-reclaimed” water and additionally elects not to extend or amend the Snowbowl reclaimed water contract.

December 1, 2010: Save the Peaks Coalition lawsuit decided in the favor of the Forest Service in the District Court of Arizona.

(Currently -2012-, Save the Peaks Coalition is appealing this lawsuit to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.)

April 1st, 2011: The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals denies an emergency motion by the Save the Peaks Coalition to stop Snowbowl ski area and the Forest Service from cutting down thousands of trees on the San Francisco Peaks, outside of Flagstaff, Arizona.

May 25, 2011: Owners of Arizona Snowbowl beging construction of an 14.8 mile wastewater pipeline and start clear-cutting over 40 acres of rare alpine forest on the San Francisco Peaks.

June 16, 2011: Six people chain themselves to Snowbowl’s construction equipment and locked themselves in pipeline trench to stop the desecration. From June 2011 to September 2011 a total of 28 arrests were made during efforts to halt the eco-cide and desecration of the Holy Mountain. Encampments during this time were also been established to protect the Holy Mountain.

August 5, 2011: U.S. Forest Service releases a draft report outlining changes to its policies and procedures for protecting Sacred Sites.

September, 2011: Due to protests, the Coconino National Forest bans overnight camping in areas close to the construction of Snowbowl’s pipeline.


References: Arizona Snow Bowl Ski Area Proposal, Final Environmental Statement 1979. Anderson, M.F. 1998. Living at the Edge: Explorers, Exploiters and Settlers of the Grand Canyon Region. Grand Canyon Association, Grand Canyon, AZ, 184 pp. Cline, P. 1976. They Came to the Mountain: The Story of Flagstaff’s Beginnings. Northern Arizona University with Northland Press, Flagstaff, 364 pp. Kaufman, C.A. 1997. The San Francisco Peaks: Three Aesthetic Views of a Natural Area. M.S. Thesis, Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, 115 pp. Notarianni, D.M. 1985. The San Francisco Peaks controversy: application of the segmentary-opposition model to an intercultural conflict. M.A. Thesis, Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, 69 pp. Phillips, K.A., Niemuth, N.J., and Bain, D.R. 1997. Active mines in Arizona. Arizona Department of Mines and Mineral Resources, Directory 46, Phoenix, AZ, 28 pp. Oral testimony, The Noise – Dec 07 #79. Arizona Daily Sun, The Noise, Coconino National Forest Service.

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