The 850 trees removed from around the Mount Graham International Observatory were dead, killed in the last several years by a spruce bark beetle infestation. They were removed as a part of a plan to reduce the wildfire threat to the observatory, while at the same time making little if any ecological impact beyond the 8.6-acre observatory site.
Robin Silver of the Center for Biological Diversity states that the University of Arizona took advantage of the Gibson Fire by removing more vegetation than normal process would allow. This completely misrepresents who manages a fire-suppression operation. The Interagency Incident Management Team, not the university, did what it decided was necessary to protect the $160 million facility. The vegetation removal was done in an emergency context with the best judgment at the time — not with conspiratorial opportunism.
Silver’s statement that "they’ve sterilized an area that’s now a 200-foot radius" is nothing more than inflammatory hyperbole.