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OSU College of Arts and Sciences Department of Astronomy

Summary Sheet on Mt. Graham, Telescopes, the Environment, & Cultural Issues

Mt. Graham and Telescopes

Mt. Graham is a large mountain on public land in southeastern Arizona that has had multiple uses for many decades. Mt. Graham is part of the Coronado National Forest. Mt. Graham covers about 200,000 acres (roughly the area of Columbus and Franklin County inside I-270). The LBT itself will occupy 1.2 acres, about the size of a football field, and the total present area for the Mt. Graham International Observatory, of which the LBT is a part, is 8.6 acres. Mt. Graham has over 40 miles of roads, recreational lakes, a Bible camp, a commercial apple orchard, and about 100 residences. It has about 280,000 recreational visitor days of use per year. In the past, several thousand acres of trees have been logged on Mt. Graham. Because of its high altitude and dark skies, Mt. Graham is probably the best site remaining in the continental U.S. for large telescopes that is practical for the construction of the LBT. Because it has existing roads and multiple public uses, the impact of the observatory on Mt. Graham will be very small.

Environmental Issues

Extensive biological and environmental studies have been carried out on Mt. Graham to ensure that the observatory does not have an adverse impact. Concerns have been raised about possible threat to the Mt. Graham red squirrel. The approved plan for the observatory includes a 1750-acre Refugium around the telescope site to protect the squirrel. Furthermore, 60 acres of existing roads and firebreaks are to be reforested (compared to the 8.6 acres that will be used for the observatory). It should also be noted that prior to 1985, the red squirrel could be hunted during a five-week season with a daily bag limit of 5 squirrels! Thus, the environment around the telescope site is now more protected than it was before.

Cultural Issues

In parallel with the biological and environmental studies mentioned above, and in compliance with the National Historical Preservation Act, the Forest Service carried out cultural surveys on Mt. Graham at the beginning of the project in the mid-1980s. Two shrines were located on Hawk and High Peaks. Additional surveys in conjunction with the Arizona Historical Preservation Office were carried out on Emerald and Plainview Peaks, and nineteen local tribes were contacted to see if they had concerns. Four tribes, the Ak-Chin, Hopi, Zuni, and the San Carlos Apache eventually responded but raised no objections to the proposed plans for the telescopes. In the end, the shrines were protected and the telescopes were located near Emerald Peak on a site with no known adverse cultural impact. Only in 1990, two years after the completion of the final environmental impact statement, did some members of the San Carlos Apache tribe raise objections to the site. The cultural issues are complex, but the project is being carried out with sensitivity and respect. Furthermore, note again that the telescopes and all of Mt. Graham are on federal land, which has many uses, as described above.