November 2 - November 8, 1995

B y  P e t e r  W a r s h a l l

IN THE PROLOG to Storm Over Mt. Graham, a new book slated for release by the University of Arizona Press, the editors write about two storms: those damned opaque clouds that block out astro-viewing; and that bothersome storm between astros and enviros.

It's obvious the editors blew off another "storm." There are zero chapters on the Apache. In fact, they're mentioned on only six pages of this 275-page book.

By red-lining the Apache, the UA Press and the book's editors suffer from a political and historical Alzheimer's or, perhaps, worse--a racial and ethnic snobbery that prevents these white folks from believing Indians are actual people with authentic and legitimate claims, if only as equal American citizens. If the telescope protruded through the ceiling of St. Paul's Cathedral and Catholics raised a stink, would the UA Press erase the Catholics?

Keith Basso, the leading Anglo authority on the Western Apache, has tried again and again to teach UA and Vatican astronomers and bureaucrats to show some respect. It's been like trying to teach flat-landers the Earth is round. In frustration, he compared the construction of these telescopes to painting swastika graffiti on a synagogue wall.

The editors prefer Orwellian omission to the simplest courtesy. Since the UA administration never cops to its shameful behavior, one can only hope the UA Press and Manuel Pacheco will send the San Carlos people an apology--maybe even a recall of the book.

How does Storm portray the astro-value of this bitterly contested site? Peter Strittmater, director of the Steward Observatory, claims there are no other continental American mountains as good as Mt. Graham (or now, Emerald Peak). As the head honcho promoter of Mt. Graham, Strittmater was a poor choice for this chapter. A natural skepticism adumbrates every sentence. Is this guy a car salesman for a mountain-top showroom? Is he hyping his Cadillac mirrors? There are lots of other astronomers who are more believable and more balanced. They might have been more thorough and presented the image-clarity and arc-second data that is strangely missing from this chapter.

Storm Over Mt. Graham ignores astro-politics in a book about astro-politics. Strittmater never mentions the attempt of the Coalition to Preserve Mt. Graham to invite the National Academy of Sciences to referee and to balance astro versus eco values. Steward Observatory rejected this offer in 1986, claiming that only Steward Observatory and the Forest Service were necessary as the bastions of objectivity. Strittmater doesn't mention that the first astro-data on Mt. Graham were wrong because of poorly planned and constructed instruments and, by the time Steward Observatory recanted its exaggerated image clarity data, Emerald Peak had been clearcut. He doesn't mention that very little was known about the astro-qualities of Emerald Peak when the University switched sites. So little that the first detailed study showed Webb Peak (a peak that might have been acceptable to enviros) had equal or better image clarity. He doesn't mention that it was the lack of timely and clear astro-data (not squirrel data) that charged up the UA's recent attempt to relocate the Columbus telescope, a move that is directly responsible for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals injunction preventing further forest clearing.

And finally, does Storm Over Mt. Graham fulfill its red-lined subtitle: "Conservation Biology and the Mt. Graham Affair?" Tenured UA professors run for cover--they compare the Grahams with Malaysia, but never tell the reader why the Pinaleños are so unique that the Society for Conservation Biology passed a resolution against the scope project. There are only casual remarks about the 15 to 20 rare and sensitive species; no discussion of forest fragmentation from timber- and astro-related clearcuts nor their impacts on the red squirrel, goshawks, band-tailed pigeons and Mexican spotted owls; no mention of the remarkably dense populations of black bear and mountain lions, nor of the special cienagas and rock-outcrop plants. There's no chapter comparing the ecological specialties of the Pinaleños to related peaks.

Conservation biology is an actual science with very specific requirements. The book treats it as a pop culture kicker to attract buyers.

There are a few focused and honest chapters (Waldrop, Simmons, Patten/Stromberg, Yates/Sullivan). The editors did not obviously redline opinions for or against the project. But, Storm's informational gaps are hopelessly galactic, the book reeks of cheap journalistic amnesia.

Storm Over Mt. Graham, edited by Conrad A. Istock and Robert S. Hoffman, University Of Arizona Press, 275 pp., 39.95 cloth, 19.95 paperback. Available in mid-November from local booksellers.

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