Mount Graham time line


Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story, Making a mountain into a starbase.

About 9000 BC

As continental glaciers retreat, conifer forests of the Pinalenos - where 10,720-foot Mount Graham is the highest peak - become isolated from those of the Mogollon Rim and other mountain islands in what is now southeastern Arizona.

7300 BC

Columbian mammoths may walk the Pinalenos range.

1889 AD

Red squirrels are abundant on Mount Graham, according to E.D. Tuttle, clerk of Graham County. Timber harvest has begun in canyons on north and east sides of Pinalenos.


Three Mount Graham red squirrels are collected and reported in scientific literature. Dr. J.A. Allen, curator of birds and mammals at American Museum of Natural History, describes a new subspecies found only in the Pinalenos.


The University of Arizona gets its first astronomer. Andrew Douglas arrives from the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, where he had a falling-out with his partner Percival Lowell over whether there are canals on Mars.


Ola Cassadore, a young San Carlos Apache, visits Mount Graham frequently with her father, a medicine man who sings and prays on the mountain. The tribe has burial grounds on the summit, and uses herbs and plants gathered on the mountain for traditional ceremonies.


Tucson gains recognition as an astronomy center. The University of Arizona adds astronomers to its faculty, and the federal National Optical Astronomy Observatory locates on campus.


Most of the incremental development on Mount Graham-summer homes, a Bible camp and radio towers-is complete. Local Apaches keep a low profile in the face of this development; legislation to protect cultural interests on public lands has yet to be passed. Some businesses still display "No dogs or Apaches' signs.


No red squirrels have been found in the Pinalenos since 1958. Biologists think the subspecies may have disappeared.


Extinction temporarily canceled-at least four red squirrels are reported by state and federal biologists.


Timber harvest declines on the range because most of the accessible timber has been cut.


Arizona's state biologists classify the Mount Graham red squirrel as threatened.


The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and the University of Arizona begin testing Mount Graham and Mauna Kea, Hawaii, as possible sites for new observatories.

March 1986

The federal National Optical Astronomy Observatory completes a two-year comparison between Mount Graham and Mauna Kea for a telescope project. Mauna Kea came out on top: "There was no comparison," says NOAO astronomer Mike Merrill.

June 3, 1987

Mount Graham red squirrel is federally listed as endangered.

July 1988

The University of Arizona wants to build seven telescopes on Mount Graham; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists say it would jeopardize the red squirrel. Agency biologists propose two alternatives: Move the project off the mountain altogether, or put the scopes on a relatively degraded part of the mountain. But the agency's regional director eventually spurs a third alternative; it allows three telescopes to be built in the thick forest on part of the mountain called Emerald Peak if a mitigation plan is followed.

August 31, 1988

In an interview in the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson, Earth First! founder Dave Foreman criticizes the university's efforts on Mt. Graham. He says, "There are people who are prepared to make them put the scopes up several times ... It's certainly not something I'd do myself, but anyone with any sense has to realize that that is what's going to happen."

October 1988

The lobbying firm Patton, Boggs and Blow convinces Congress to exempt the university from the remaining requirements of environmental law. Congress permits three telescopes to be built on an 8.6-acre site on Emerald Peak. John Moag, a lawyer for the firm, tells the Washington Post the controversy has cost the university "about $50,000 per squirrel."

April 30, 1989

Electricity is interrupted at the National Observatory on Kitt Peak when a power pole is cut at the base of the mountain. A man identifying himself as a "scope buster" calls the Arizona Republic in Phoenix, saying he had cut the pole in retaliation for environmental damage done on Kitt Peak, and warning the same thing could happen on Mount Graham.

July 26, 1989

The Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund and other advocacy groups file a lawsuit in federal court to permanently halt observatory construction. Agency biologists subsequently tell government investigators Fish and Wildlife's signing off on the university's plan was "predetermined" and "a violation of law."

February 14, 1990

U of A scientist Conrad Istock, a proponent of the telescope project, reports an anonymous letter threatening him with death if the squirrel goes extinct. But the writer takes back the threat in an apologetic letter sent a week later, Istock reports.

March 26, 1990

In court, U of A lawyer David Todd explains the extent to which Congress exempted the university from environmental law: If the telescope project was going to kill every squirrel, nothing could be done about it.


The university realizes that the Emerald Peak site has high winds that will threaten the visual quality of the Large Binocular Telescope. It decides on a nearby alternate site which is outside the boundary designated by Congress. University biologists say the new site also affects fewer squirrels.

May 27, 1991

The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory decides to build its $40 million radio telescope on Mauna Kea rather than on Mount Graham. "It's higher and drier," explains one official.

September 7, 1991

Ohio State University cuts its investment in the Large Binocular Telescope from $15 million to $2.5 million.

September 30, 1993

Snell & Winter, a law firm employed by the university, submits a $300 bill for three hours' research on the possibility of filing racketeering charges against opponents of the telescopes.

December, 1st week, 1993

Although the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service initially told the university that moving outside the Emerald Peak site would activate environmental laws, the agency suddenly reverses itself. It gives the green light to relocate the biggest telescope without meeting the provisions of the laws.

December 6, 1993

The Forest Service approves the university's request to relocate the telescope.

December 7, 1993

Before dawn, the university cuts down more than 250 old-growth trees covering about three-quarters of an acre on the new site. Biologist Paul Young, who had headed the university's effort to monitor squirrel populations on the mountain since 1989, finds out about the cutting on the evening news. He says: "I'm just not in on the decision making process."

January 10, 1994

After four years of thinking about signing on to the Mount Graham project, the University of Toronto decides against it.

April 8, 1994

Fifty European astronomers sign a petition appealing for a halt to the project "so that the unique environment and sacred mountain of Mount Graham can be saved."

July 28, 1994

A coalition of 21 environmental groups that sued the university over changing sites wins in court. Presiding U.S. District Court Judge Alfredo Marquez concludes: "It is obvious that formal (environmental assessment) is mandated before this project can continue." The university appeals the ruling.

April 1995

A federal appeals court upholds Judge Marquez's decision.

June 1995

The university quietly challenges the appeals court's decision, but doesn't rule out going back to the former site on Emerald Peak or building the Large Binocular Telescope in Mexico or on Mauna Kea.