Diverse Coalition Succeeds in Protecting Sacred Native American Mountain
March 23, 2007
In a precedent setting victory for numerous Native American tribes in coalition with the Sierra Club and other activists, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals blocked a proposal by the U.S. Forest Service and the Arizona Snowbowl ski area to make artificial snow using reclaimed sewage water from nearby Flagstaff. The plan was challenged in court by the Sierra Club and six Native American tribes, for whom the San Francisco Peaks are consecrated ground. In the unanimous opinion, Judge William Fletcher wrote, "it may be useful to imagine the effect on Christian beliefs and practices ... if the government were to require that baptisms be carried out with 'reclaimed water.'" Judge Fletcher ruled in the tribes' and the Club’s favor on both our Religious Freedom Restoration Act claim as well as our NEPA claim. Read more about this victory and the Sierra Club’s Arizona Environmental justice program here.
January 11, 2006
Over protests from local tribes and environmental groups, a federal judge has given the green light to the Arizona Snowbowl ski resort to use reclaimed sewage water for artificial snow on the San Francisco Peaks. Although the groups raised important questions about the environmental impacts of the project, as well as the serious religious implications of desecrating a site held sacred by local tribes, the judge ruled in favor of the Forest Service and authorized immediate logging in the region. Sierra Club and our coalition partners believe that the future of the Peaks has been put in jeopardy, including unanswered questions about the environmental impacts of using reclaimed sewage water and drastically increasing tourism in the area. We are evaluating our options to stop this misguided project.
July 13, 2005
Joining with coalition partners, Sierra Club filed a federal district court lawsuit on June 23 to protect the San Francisco Peaks from further development and desecration. The groups cited a range of issues, including environmental concerns about applying sewage water to the peaks considered sacred by local tribes and a broad range of violations of laws such as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Although the Forest Service nominated the area for the National Register of Historic Places, it simultaneously approved the project in early June after rejecting numerous administrative appeals. The coalition won an early victory on July 13 when during a preliminary trial the Snowbowl ski resort agreed not to begin construction until after the full trial later this year.
May 2, 2005
The San Francisco Peaks in Arizona have long been a site sacred to thirteen Native American tribes including the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Tribe. However, they have also been at the center of a growing debate over the intersection of recreational development, environmental protection, and religious freedom for native peoples. Recently, the future of the Peaks was put in jeopardy as the U.S. Forest Service released a management plan that would allow a ski resort in the area to introduce artificial snow made from reclaimed sewage water. However, there are several unresolved questions about the environmental impacts of increased tourism in the region along with unanswered questions about the safety of using reclaimed water to make artificial snow. In fact, the management plan includes a reference to harmful impacts on the tribes and fails to take into account several realistic, alternative options for the area. Now Sierra Club has joined a diverse coalition to appeal the plan on several grounds, including the severe impacts on wildlife and their habitats as well as the dangerous consequences for religious freedoms.
Details and Documents:
Court backs tribes on Peaks
March 13, 2007, by Kathy Helms and Diné Bureau, The Gallup Independent
Court: Resort Can't Turn Sewage To Snow
March 14, 2007, The Post Chronicle
Religious Freedom and Restoration Act tested
January 20, 2006, by Tanya Lee, Indian Country Today
Court allows use of reclaimed wastewater on San Francisco Peaks
January 19, 2006, by Kathy Helms, Environment News Service
Navajo Nation to appeal Peaks case Judge rules against tribe
January 13, 2006, by Ryan Hall, Farmington Daily Times
Court allows wastewater snow on Arizona mountain
January 12, 2006, by David Schwartz, Reuters
Commerce and religion collide on a mountainside
October 23, 2005, by Randal Archibold, The New York Times
Tribes fight ski area over sacred site
October 18, 2005, by Electa Draper, Denver Post
Sierra Club and Tribes Act to Protect the Peaks from additional development
June 23, 2005, Press Release
Sierra Club joins diverse coalition in fight to save sacred Native American Mountain
April 27, 2005, Sierra Club Press Release
Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Decision
March 12, 2007
See other "Safeguarding Communities" cases.