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Flagstaff Residents Embark on Hunger Strike to Oppose Snowmaking on San Francisco Peaks

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A pair of young Flagstaff, Arizona residents has embarked on a hunger strike to oppose snowmaking at a ski area on the San Francisco Peaks, held sacred by 13 tribes in the Southwest.

Jessica Beasley, a Navajo tribal member and Northern Arizona University nursing student, and her partner, Joseph Sanders, are keeping vigil during daylight hours at Flagstaff City Call; a city-wide camping ordinance prevents them from staying overnight.

They say their approach differs from recent demonstrations during which protestors chained themselves to an excavator and were arrested for trespassing on the property of Arizona Snowbowl, the controversial ski resort.

“A hunger strike is a non-violent form of protest, and we’re committed to that,” Sanders said.

Tribal and environmental activists have been protesting Snowbowl’s use of the sacred mountain since the 1970s, and have consistently lost in courts. Protestors suffered another disappointing loss earlier this year, when Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a district court decision dismissing a lawsuit filed by the Save the Peaks Coalition against the Forest Service. Beasley and Sanders say they were partly inspired to begin their hunger strike when Coral Evans, then a candidate for Flagstaff City Council, said in campaign interviews this spring that snowmaking on the Peaks was a “dead issue.” The pair began their hunger strike on June 5. They say they don’t intend to injure themselves; they’ll be taking in fruit juices, tea and water to stay hydrated and somewhat nourished.

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They’re hoping to call attention to what they believe is a human rights violation against people who hold the Peaks sacred. The U.S. Forest Service should rescind Snowbowl’s permit to build the infrastructure that will deliver reclaimed wastewater to the ski slopes, they say – or the city of Flagstaff should rescind its contract to deliver reclaimed water for the project.

“Until Snowbowl and the City of Flagstaff put the red-hot iron into our sides we were normal people leading normal lives,” the couple said in a statement at a city council meeting on Tuesday. “The aforementioned parties either do not know, or do not care how much misery, strife and terror they are causing for a significant portion of the community.”

Beasley and Sanders said in their statement that they are willing to end their hunger strike when the city cancels its water delivery contract with Snowbowl, when the ski area removes its pipeline and repairs the damage from initial construction, and when the city agrees “that there will be no further destruction of the San Francisco Peaks by Arizona Snowbowl, or any others.”

On Thursday, Sanders said if alternatives were presented, they’d consider them. “We’re not so dogmatic that we would only consider the points we outlined,” he said. For example, the pair would like to see Snowbowl sell its land and operation to local tribes. Discussions with the Navajo Nation were under way at one point, but they fell apart on the issue of the asking price.

Opposition is still active on other fronts against snowmaking on the Peaks. Earlier this year, the Hopi Tribe formally requested that the Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service re-open consultation about the pipeline permit because of endangered species issue. The Hopi tribe commissioned a study by an environmental consulting firm, which found the agencies overlooked potential threats from snowmaking to an endangered alpine plant. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service field supervisor Steve Spangle said that so far, the agencies have not re-opened consultations, but they are discussing the matter.

For more of our coverage on the San Francisco Peaks and Snowbowl, click here.