Mt. Graham, known to the Western Apaches as Dzil Nchaa Siían since time immemorial, is a most sacred and holy place and a central part of their tribal homeland and religious life. Mt. Grahamís summit is an ancient forest, surrounded by the Sonoran and Chihuahuan Deserts. To biologists, it is known as a "sky island." On the summit is a relict, virgin, spruce-fir forest. Mt. Graham has 18 plants and animals found nowhere else on earth. This is where the endangered Mt. Graham Red Squirrel lives.
To construct a gigantic telescope complex on that most sacred and ecologically vulnerable summit, the University of Arizona (UA) lobbyists went to Congress on behalf of a special-interest group of astronomers. In the final hours of the 1988 Congress, without hearings or debate, they slipped in a radical, precedent-setting legislative back-door "rider" to a bill. UA lawyers have subsequently spent millions in court arguing that this "rider" exempts them from U.S. religious, environmental protection, and cultural heritage laws!
While the defenders of this sacred mountain and its endangered species and ecosystem thus far have not permanently stopped this national ethical travesty, they have achieved several court victories. The telescope builders at the University of Arizona (UA) have only been able to build on Mt. Graham because they have twice introduced special-interest legislative exemptions to slide around U.S. law.
One of the most shameful aspects of the telescope project is that it is the first willful, selfish attempt of its kind by a U.S. university -- to try to exempt itself from the religious, environmental, and cultural heritage protection laws of this nation. People who respect these fundamental laws are outraged that any university would engage in such unethical conduct.