The Mount Graham Case at the United Nations of Geneva

Fire threatens observatory on Mount Graham

The Arizona Republic - 3 July 2004

A pair of fires in the Pinaleno Mountains northeast of Tucson are threatening Mount Graham International Observatory. A portion of the two fires, known collectively as the Nuttall Complex, bumped up against the road that leads to Mount Graham shortly before 3 p.m. Saturday afternoon, said Fire Information Officer Donna Nemeth.
She could not say how far the flames were from the observatory or if any of the other 37 threatened structures had been destroyed.
"The fire is very active at this time," Nemeth said. "When the fire gets that active and there's so much smoke and flame, even with reconnaissance flights it's difficult to tell if you lost anything." The Nuttall fire, which began on June 26 from a lightening strike, has now burned through more than 3,100 acres, Nemeth said.

The Gibson fire has burned more than 100 acres, she said.
Both fires are located about 15 miles southwest of Safford and are being handled by Dan Oltrogee's Type 1 Incident Command Team. Yesterday, 10 firefighters had to deploy fire shelters to escape the flames, but none were injured according to the Southwest Area Wildland Fire Operations Web site.
However, there have been cases of dehydration and one reported back injury not related to the fire shelter deployments, the Web site stated.
The flames continue to move through heavy timber made up of ponderosa and conifers southwest toward the observatory. The vegetation in that area is dry and many trees have been killed by the bark beetle.
High wind speeds and dry weather has increased the fire's intensity, Nemeth said.
Ten crews of elite firefighters are battling the blaze right now, Nemeth said. Another 10 elite hotshot crews have been ordered.
Another 80 firefighters are also on scene, Nemeth said.
Ten helicopters and two military air tankers are working the fire from the air.
Twelve engines, four water tenders and one bulldozer are helping to construct fireline.
All told, more than 580 firefighters and support personnel are fighting both fires. To date, firefighting costs are estimated at more than $2.1 million.

Apaches say fire threat to Arizona observatory
on their sacred mountain is a "warning from God"

by Elisabeth Brandt

JULY 18, 2004 - The Nuttall Fire Complex started by lightning strikes on June 22 and 26 on Dzil Nchaa Si'an, (Mt. Graham) in the Coronado National Forest in southeastern Arizona, continues to burn. It is reported to be 80% contained with an estimated date of full containment of July 21. This fire threatened the multi-million dollar Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) and observatory run by the University of Arizona with its partners from Germany, Italy and the Vatican, along with the support of the universities of Ohio State, Notre Dame, Virginia and Minnesota.
Traditional Apaches have opposed astrophysical development upon the mountain since they became aware of plans for it in the 1980's with the Apache Survival Coalition (ASC) taking the lead in the opposition, as well as the San Carlos Apache Tribe, the White Mountain Apache Tribe, and other Apache organizations. In May 2002, the US Dept. of the Interior officially determined the entire mountain, known since time immemorial to the Apaches as Dzil Nchaa Si'an, to be eligible to the National Register of Historic Places as a Traditional Cultural Property and Sacred Site.
Astrophysical development is an inappropriate use of this "chief of all sacred mountains." ASC has never had a court ruling on the merits of their stands to protect the mountain because the University of Arizona which conceived and manages the project and USFS have always thrown up technical procedural obstacles to prevent the courts from addressing the substance of the Apache's legitimate objections. The San Carlos Apache Tribe has passed five resolutions opposing telescope development, the most recent motion only last month. The White Mountain Apache Tribe has also passed a strong resolution against the telescopes. Apache efforts have also been supported by resolutions passed by the National Congress of American Indians. The telescopes stand upon land that belonged to the Apache before colonization by the Spanish and most recently, by the United States. As Raleigh Thompson, ASC board member and a retired San Carlos Apache Tribal Council member stated:
"When you look around, all this land was ours. My land stretched to the east to the New Mexico border, south about one hundred miles below today's Mexican border, west to the Sedona area, and north to the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff. Lightning is the very power of God in Apache belief. We believe that this fire was not accidental, but a warning that the mountain can defend itself. We have warned the Forest Service and the universities and the Vatican time and time again that what they are doing up there is desecration, but they don't listen to us. One of our sacred thirty-two songs mentions that the end of the world, of the universe itself, will be in fire, which will consume everything. This mountain was quiet until they began disturbing it to build the telescopes. Our prophecy predicted this fire. In the old days, there were never fires like this."
ASC Board Member, Evelyn Rope, commented that older Apache women had told her that:
"They took care of the forest, clearing this material and cutting back the brush so this could not happen. This fire spread so fast because there were many feet of forest needles and fuel that let the fire ladder up into the trees."
As a basket weaver, she and other women cut back shrubs which they use to make baskets each year to make them grow strong, straight, and tall.
Scientific evidence supports Apache assertions. A study of the forest done by the scientists at the Tree Ring Laboratory at the University of Arizona shows that the last big fire on the mountain was in 1685 and destroyed the spruce-fir conifers on the summit. Tree rings from trees on the mountain reflect annual growth, conditions, and fire. They can be counted and fire scars examined to determine when fires occurred and matched to a long sequence to determine the age of the tree. Some of the trees destroyed in this fire were as much as three hundred and fourteen years old. In the past, the forest below the summit spruce-fir forest was much more open and covered with grass between large trees. Small fires, which occurred about every ten years on average, were confined to the grass and rarely damaged the large trees.
The current major forest fire on the Apache sacred mountain came very close to the telescope buildings. A major fire in 1996 -- the Clark Peak Fire -- came within 200 yards of the observatory shortly after Congress passed a rider to overturn a court injunction that was issued when the telescope site was illegally changed to its present location. See Mt. Graham Coalition v. Thomas, 53 F.3d 970 (9th Cir. 1995)(upholding injunction issued stopping construction that violated U.S. environmental laws). Over the past two weeks, more than 29,000 acres of land -- 45 square miles -- have burned and there have been 28 injuries to fire personnel. Recent rainfall due to the start of Arizona's monsoon season has caused flows of fire debris into the creeks.
Apache people mourn the death of the trees, the animals, and the injuries to those who fought the fire. The scars of the fire and the loss of many trees causes the towering, fourteen story, white LBT building to stand out even more on the top of the mountain, a very visible reminder of the destruction of a sacred mountain by outside forces. In December 1999, the United Nations High commission on Human Rights published an investigative report on the siting and operations of the Mt. Graham observatory and found it to be one of the most egregious examples of inappropriate development and religious intolerance by government towards Native Americans.

APACHE SURVIVAL COALITION, P.O. Box 1237, San Carlos, AZ 85550, (928) 475-2543; FAX (928) 475-2074

For more information and background on this long-standing controversy, see "Record of Apache Opposition to the Desecration of Mount Graham" and more at and also

Contacts: ASC Board Members: Raleigh Thompson 928 475-2595, Irwin Rope 928 475-5680 & Dr. Elizabeth Brandt at 480 838-2874 or 480 205-0477. For legal issues, Michael V. Nixon, J.D. 412 221-6261.