Protesters outside US Federal Court in San Francisco on March 12, 2015
Indigenous Nations’ appeal in Ninth Circuit Court concerned desecration and contamination of California sacred area and water in midst of record drought
SAN FRANCISCO – Today the Pit River Tribe, Native Coalition for Medicine Lake Highlands Defense, Mount Shasta Bioregional Ecology Center, Save Medicine Lake Coalition, Medicine Lake Citizens for Quality Environment, with their attorney Deborah A. Sivas of the Stanford Environmental Law Clinic and supporters, optimistically exited the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals today following oral arguments in Pit River Tribe vs. US Bureau of Land Management, Department of Interior, Forest Service, Department of Agriculture, & Calpine Corporation, Defendants-Appellees.
Known to the Pit River people, lead defendants in the case, as “Saht Tit Lah,”, the Medicine Lake Highlands are used for healing, religious ceremonies, and tribal gatherings. Pit River, Wintun, Karuk, Shasta and Modoc Nations hold the Medicine Lake Highlands sacred, and have used the Highlands for spiritual purposes for untold generations.
“Medicine Lake is a sacred place and it needs to be protected at all costs,” said Pit River Tribal Chairman Mickey Gemmill. “We’re trying to preserve our culture and Medicine Lake is part of the beginning of our people. If we allow these corporations to come in and frack, we could lose that chance to bring back that part of our culture. So we’re asking the Calpine Corporation to step back and leave the Medicine Lake Highlands alone.”
Representatives of Native Nations and environmentalist supporters came before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on March 12th in San Francisco, to bring their case that energy leases were renewed illegally by federal agencies in 1998 for industrial development on national forest lands in the Medicine Lake Highlands, a near-pristine area about 30 miles northeast of Mount Shasta that has been designated a Native American Traditional Cultural District. The Native American and environmental plaintiffs assert that industrial energy development would desecrate and pollute the area and pose unacceptable risks to California’s largest fresh water aquifer. Contrary to the National Environmental Policy Act and other laws, the federal agencies never evaluated the threshold question of whether industrial geothermal development is even appropriate for this landscape.
“What was never considered is whether development is even appropriate for the Medicine Lake Highlands in the first place, given the area’s high benefit in holding California’s largest pure underground aquifer,” said Michelle Berditschevsky, senior conservation consultant for the Mount Shasta Bioregional Ecology Center (her legal commentary can be found here).
“Geothermal development in the surrounding national forest would increase traffic, noise, water and air pollution and would fragment wildlife habitat, turning the remote landscape into an industrial wasteland and threatening a reliable source of pure water,” said Janie Painter, executive director of the Medicine Lake Citizens for Quality Environment, consisting of Medicine Lake cabin owners and recreationalists.
Outside on the courthouse steps, plaintiffs and attorneys met with the press and approximately 100 supporters, including an Intertribal youth caravan from New Mexico and Arizona which traveled here to catch a glimpse of the proceedings before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
“The struggle to protect the sacred Medicine Lake Highlands has been a long one, but over the years, we have only learned more and more about the importance of the landscape to Native Americans and California more generally,” said Deborah Sivas, Director of the Stanford Environmental Law Clinic, which represents the Pit River Tribe and environmental organizations in the lawsuit. “I was happy to see that the court understood our arguments that the Tribe has a deep, abiding connection to the area.”
“It was great to see such a big turnout by tribe members at the hearing. We were gratified to represent the tribe and fight for the future of the Medicine Lake Highlands in the 9th Circuit,” said Jason George, a certified Law student in the Stanford Environmental Law Clinic.