| FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
March 13, 2003
CONTACT: Brian Segee, Center for Biological Diversity (520) 623-5252 x308
David Hodges, Sky Island Alliance (520) 624-7080
GROUPS CHALLENGE APPROVAL OF NEW TELESCOPE ARRAY IN CORONADO NATIONAL FOREST WITHIN THE SANTA RITA MOUNTAINS
The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Sky Island Alliance (SIA) have filed an administrative appeal to the Forest Service's Southwest Regional Office requesting the withdraw of a decision authorizing construction of the Smithsonian Institutions proposed Very Energetic Radiation Imaging Telescope (VERITAS) project. The project, approved by Coronado Forest Supervisor John McGee in January, authorizes the construction of seven 34-foot tall optical reflector telescopes (taller when opened) with sides 265 feet in length, a 4,500 square foot control building, septic field, underground utility connections, and communication links within Montosa Canyon, a prominent and currently undeveloped drainage along the west side of the Santa Rita Mountains. The Forest Service has 45 days to respond to the appeal. If the appeal is denied, the groups may sue in federal district court.
The VERITAS proposal, designed to collect and analyze gamma ray emissions (commonly associated with phenomena such as black holes and supernovae), is the latest in a long series of astrophysical and other developments within southeast Arizonas Sky Island mountain ranges, largely administered by the Coronado National Forest. Within the Santa Rita Mountains, substantial land is already permitted to the Smithsonian for operation of the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory, constructed in 1968. Additional major telescopes in the region include the Mt. Graham International Observatory and the Kitt Peak National Observatory.
As the human population of southern Arizona continues to rapidly expand, the Sky Island mountain ranges within the Coronado National Forest will become increasingly important refuges for imperiled wildlife, biological diversity, and our own well-being, stated Brian Segee, Southwest Public Land Director with CBD. The Smithsonians proposed telescopes would be an unnecessary incursion into a beautiful and currently undeveloped canyon within the Santa Rita range, an area that has already suffered extensive development in the name of astrophysical research.
The Smithsonians bid to construct the VERITAS telescopic array was denied by Coronado Forest Supervisor John McGee in 1999. In denying the project, Mr. McGee noted that the project is inconsistent with the Coronado Forest Plan, that the Smithsonian had not adequately explored alternative off-Forest sites, that the public interest was not served by approval of the project, and that existing religious practices within Montosa Canyon would be adversely affected by construction of the VERITAS project.
The Native American non-profit organization To All Our Relations currently operates a sweat lodge within Montosa Canyon. TAOR has filed a separate administrative appeal of the proposed telescopes.
Despite the fact that all of the rationales provided Supervisor McGee for denying the project in 1999 still exist today, the Forest Service has now approved the project.
The Coronado National Forests own management plan would be violated by the proposed telescopes, stated David Hodges, Executive Director of Sky Island Alliance. Instead of managing this area for the benefit of wildlife and visual quality as the Plan directs, the Forest Service has permitted development of a massive telescope array that will forever change the currently wild character of this land.