Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story, Making a mountain into a starbase.
"The reality of this project is that it was never a threat to the red squirrel."
Michael Cusanovich, vice president for research and graduate studies at the U of A, oversees a $220 million annual research budget. He's been at the university since 1969 and has also served as a professor of chemistry and biochemistry. Asked if the telescopes on Mount Graham are intended as a cash cow, he bristles:
"That's nuts. You don't make money with research; you create knowledge. We always strive for excellence. A lot of the areas where we're excellent don't generate any dollars at all. So it's not dollar-driven ...
"The reality of this project is that it was never a threat to the red squirrel. So it becomes a land-use issue: Is using 8.6 acres in a forest of 400,000 acres appropriate land use? I and other biologists think it is; others don't.
"We're in the age of factoids, pseudoscience and Luddites. Many of the environmental groups are Luddites. And that's just something we have to realistically deal with.
"(The protesters) throw nails on the road (going to the telescopes). They've taken our snowblower. They're violent. When someone shoots out the window of Steward Observatory (on campus), my response isn't, 'Well, let's talk to these guys.' They're not worth talking to at this point. They've lost all credibility. To talk to them at this point would be to give in to blackmail ...
"By the way, I'm told there's some rumbling about endangered species on Mauna Kea (a site in Hawaii where some of the telescopes originally planned for Mount Graham have been placed instead) ... It would be perversely funny if that were true."