Mt. Graham's Summit: Pristine Ancient Forest Before Observatory Invasion

University of Virginia astronomers claim:

"The high elevation areas are not pristine natural areas. There is evidence of former logging near the summits There is a 40-mile long, two lane highway which runs up Mt. Graham The mountain has multiple campgrounds 100 cabins and a Bible camp 280,000 recreational visitor days"

Reply:

That is not true and it is very misleading. NONE of those developments occurred in or near Mt. Graham's summit boreal or Hudsonian forest. Until the all-weather telescope road was made, the boreal forest summit was only accessible by a barely passable trail which was inaccessible most of the year.

The astronomers' claiming of commercial logging at the summit is untrue, as is the existence of a two-lane highway there. Also erroneous is the claim that there are cabins, campgrounds or 280,000 visitor days way up in this remote, boreal, summit forest. As stated before, all of those activities have occurred at locations well below the precious, unique, and irreplaceable boreal summit ecosystem.

The fact is, the summit was pristine before the telescope.

Our defense of Mt. Graham has always been focused on the protection on the issue of the integrity of this unique, southernmost North American Hudsonian ecosystem at the top of the mountain. It is the preferred home of Tamiasciurus hudsonicus grahamensis and supports at least 17 other plants and animals found nowhere else in the world (three mammals, three plants, several high altitude-adapted snails and various unique arthropods).

The USFWS Biological Opinion pointed out that the fragmentation and fenestration of this summit ecosystem by the telescopes would result in the permanent destruction of 47 acres -- not just the 8.6 acres claimed by the Mt. Graham astronomers.

The "best," fully canopied forest habitat for the squirrel was determined by the USFWS to be just 472 acres, not the various thousands of acres alluded to by the UVa astronomers below the summit ecosystem. It is the undisturbed summit Hudsonian forest that is important for the integrity of that ecosystem. The telescopes, their access roads, and associated activities, cause forest fragmentation, exposure of arboreal species to predators, mortality to the sun-intolerant spruce/fir boreal tree species, and the occurrence of tree insect infestations.

Continuous telescope construction and maintenance traffic, and astronomer and visitor traffic, have caused multiple reported and unreported roadkills of the severely endangered remaining Mt. Graham red squirrels. The astronomers' reference to the astrophysical project as a small or "tiny" impact is in disagreement with impartial biologists who have studied that issue.

After the GAO reported to Congress (July 26, 1990) that the USFWS Biological Opinion (BO) approving the telescopes was fraudulent, a blue-ribbon USFWS panel of five nationally respected biologists was appointed. They concluded a new Biological Opinion was warranted. President Bush's Department of Agriculture and Justice Dept, in August 23, 1990, said that the UA's Congressional anti-cultural and environmental "rider" precluded any further squirrel studies (BO's) by the USFWS.

The Society for Conservation Biology, in April 1991, representing 4000 members internationally, passed a resolution opposing the project and describing Mt. Graham as:

"a unique treasure of North American biological diversity, being the only intact spruce-fir sky island ecosystem remaining in the Sonoran Desert of the United States and Mexico."

Scientists for the Preservation of Mt. Graham, representing 250 regional and international scientists passed a resolution in July 1990 describing Mt. Graham as a: "priceless cradle of evolution" and the telescope project as "incompatible with the goal of preserving natural conditions and evolutionary processes."