Editorial: Court 'misguided' on sacred site case

"Different courts have now weighed in on the issue of using reclaimed water to make artificial snow at the Arizona Snowbowl near Flagstaff. Their conclusions are polar opposites, which leaves the question: Should the U.S. Forest Service appeal the prohibition handed down by a federal appeals court?

Unquestionably, yes.

In a misguided ruling, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals sided with environmentalists and Native American tribes who claimed that the use of reclaimed water to manufacture snow on the San Francisco Peaks, which the tribes consider sacred, violates their rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act passed by Congress in 1993. The judicial ruling derisively refers to reclaimed water as treated sewage effluent, at one point labeling it as a "euphemism."

The decision overturned a sensible District Court ruling last year that reaffirmed the multiple-use doctrine on public lands (the Snowbowl is on Forest Service lands) and said that the tribes, principally the Navajo and Hopi, failed to present "any objective evidence that their exercise of religion will be impacted by the Snowbowl upgrades" nor would snowmaking "substantially burden the tribes' exercise of religion."

To sort through these different judicial findings, the Department of Agriculture and the Justice Department should aggressively take the matter to the U.S. Supreme Court."

Get the Story:
Editorial: Appeal the snow job (The Arizona Republic 3/21)

Court Decision:
Navajo Nation v. US Forest Service (March 12, 2007)

Listen to Oral Arguments:
Navajo Nation v. Forest Service (September 14, 2006)

Appeals Court Documents:
Opening Brief [Word DOC] | Reply Brief [Word DOC]

Lower Court Decision:
Navajo Nation v. US Forest Service (January 11, 2006)

Approval Documents:
Final Environmental Impact Statement for Arizona Snowbowl Facilities Improvement | Forest Service Approves Snowmaking at Arizona Snowbowl

Relevant Links:
Save the Peaks Coalition - http://www.savethepeaks.org
Coconino National Forest - http://www.fs.fed.us/r3/coconino/index.shtml

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Letter: Hualapai Tribe hypocritical on sacred (3/15)
9th Circuit blocks snowmaking at sacred peaks (3/13)
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