Arizona Snowbowl

The Arizona Snowbowl Ski Resort is found near the town of Flagstaff, Arizona, which is within the Coconino National Forest.  The resort is currently owned by Arizona Snowbowl Resort (ASR).  In 2002, ASR proposed a facilities improvement to the U.S. Forest Service that included a new high-speed ski lift, updates on current lifts, a larger lodge area, and an artificial snow-making system.  The snow-making system would use treated sewage effluent from the city of Flagstaff.  The U.S. Forest Service supports the renovations, believing that it is in the best interest of the American public and part of its mission to provide recreational opportunities to the public.  Over thirteen tribes use the Snowbowl peak in order to perform religious acts.  The tribes claim that ASR's proposed renovations would prevent the tribes from freely practicing their religion.  The Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, and Flagstaff Activist Network joined the plaintiff side for the 9th Circuit Court appeals case in 2007.  These groups provide the political support that the Native American Nations need in order to be successful in their litigation.  The fact that they are listed alongside the plaintiffs for this appeals case leads me to believe that these groups provide monetary support to the tribes as well.  The Save the Peaks Coalition is another group that provides media attention in regards to the Native American Nations' opposition to ASR's renovations.  The city of Flagstaff, while not involved in the litigation surrounding the other groups, is involved in this issue.  Flagstaff is looking at this situation through a purely economic mindset, since the city has agreed on a contract in which to sell the wastewater for snow-making purposes to ASR if it's proposed renovations go through. (For more information about the parties involved in this issue, click to go to the Who section).

The decreasing levels of annual precipitation have proved to be a massive economic challenge to ASR.  Low snowfall results in poor ski attendance and a shortened ski season.  An artificial snow-making system would ensure an adequate skiing season in addition to encouraging both more public participation in the surrounding National Forested areas and publicity concerning the National Forest.  However, the previous and proposed renovations of the ski resort have reduced and will further reduce the accessibility of the mountain for the Native American Nations, thus inhibiting their religious practices. (Click to find out more about What's happening in this issue.)

The issue of proposed renovations at Snowbowl was first brought to the courts in 1983, when the Forest Service approved renovations including more ski lifts, a parking lot, and an extra ski lodge.  The Native American Nations sued under violation of the Free Exercise of Religion Act, American Indian Religious Freedom Act (AIRFA), the Endangered Species Act, and the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA).  In this case, the court ruled in favor of the defendants, allowing the proposed renovations to occur since no violations under the above-mentioned laws were found.  After the artificial snow-making proposal was announced in 2002, the Native American Nations brought the case to the Circuit Court in January of 2006, claiming violations under AIRFA, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).  The court ruled again in favor of the defendants, allowing construction to begin since no violations were found.  The plaintiffs then went to the full 9th Circuit Court of appeals in October of 2007, where the 2006 decision was overturned based on violations under RFRA and NEPA. There was also a rehearing en banc in May 2007, which argues that the March 2007 decision is wrong. The rehearing was in fall 2007. This case could possibly be brought to the Supreme Court by ASR, but it is not likely. (Click to learn more about Where this court case has taken place.)

The Native American Nations' best alternative to a negotiated agreement (BATNA) would be to pursue the defendants in the legal system.  ASR may shut down the resort due to the massive amount of legal fees that it has accrued and will continue to face if litigation continues.  The U.S. Forest Service's BATNA would be to stop supporting the proposed renovations to the Snowbowl peak.  The intense opposition to the proposed renovations could have negative effects on the Forest Service's popularity and support in the country.  Likewise, ASR is losing so much money due to litigation fees that it may be in it's best interest to drop the proposed renovations and possibly close the resort. (Click to learn more about How this issue could potentially be handled.)

Several sources have cited this issue and can be seen here: Sources.

It is my belief that a couple of courses at Colby College pertain to this case study and my case study could be incorporated into these for enhanced understanding of the particular course's objectives. Click here to see Related Courses.

Location of the Arizona Snowbowl Ski Resort (left) and Arizona Native American Nations (right).

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