STAR GATE

The Church would ask any new beings it stumbles across in outer space whether he/she/it has ever experienced something similar to "Adam and Eve" and whether the aliens "know a Jesus who has redeemed you."

With religious pursuits tied to an international observatory that has the potential of generating tens of millions of dollars in grants to UofA each year, it comes as little surprise that UofA officials are taking extraordinary precautions to protect vital information--including requests for destruction of documents.

In October 1991--after Ohio State withdrew its $15 million from the LBT project--Steward Observatory director Strittmatter held discussions with Father Coyne about the possibility of the Vatican becoming a full partner in the LBT.

On October 18, 1991, Strittmatter sent a memo stamped "confidential" on university stationery to top UofA administrators. The communiquā outlined the Vatican's possible role in the project and attached a short letter Coyne had sent Strittmatter on the Vatican's possible LBT investment. Coyne's letter closed with a request that discussions be kept confidential.

Fearing that project opponents could hear about the potential new partner, Strittmatter asked UofA officials to destroy Coyne's letter after reading it.

Strittmatter--contacted in Florence, Italy, in early June while attending a meeting with Italian engineers who are partners in the LBT--says he asked UofA administrators to destroy the letter "to protect people who otherwise would have been invaded with loads of rubbish" and "misinformation" from project opponents.

Ironically, the memo was intercepted by Mount Graham opponents. Strittmatter says it wasn't the first or last time project documents have vanished or leaked to the opposition.

"When things disappear from people's desktops and all sorts of other things, you have to be careful," Strittmatter says.

Cusanovich adds that UofA officials sometimes drop disinformation into communications it believes opponents are monitoring.

While Cusanovich says Strittmatter's request to destroy the document "was inappropriate," he's not always the most diligent recordkeeper.

When asked in a May public-records request by Silver whether there were any university records concerning the Vatican's possible role in the project, Cusanovich said there were not, leading Silver to believe UofA had followed Strittmatter's request and destroyed the records. Yet in a subsequent interview with New Times, Cusanovich says a copy of Strittmatter's "please destroy" memo still exists.

Asked why it wasn't given to Silver when he asked about Vatican documents, Cusanovich said the memo wasn't in the Vatican file, but in a fund-raising file.

"He asked about the Vatican, so I pulled the Vatican file, right?" Cusanovich says, laughing, before quickly adding that he only recently remembered that the memo had been placed in the fund-raising file.

@rule:
@body:UofA astronomers like Peter Strittmatter can't understand why environmentalists are raising such a ruckus over the survival of the Mount Graham red squirrel. Strittmatter is certain the squirrel will survive UofA's telescope development. His basis for the assessment is straightforward. "People and squirrels live together fine," he says.

At first, the astronomer's assessment seems acceptable. But his casual conclusion distorts the complexity of the debate and the squirrel's precarious position.

The Mount Graham red squirrel is making its final stand on the high ridges of the Pinaleno Mountains, which includes Mount Graham. The Pinalenos are the highest range south of the Mogollon Rim. Its 10,720-foot peak at Mount Graham ascends more steeply than any mountain range in Arizona, towering more than 7,000 feet above the Gila River Valley to the east and the Sulphur Springs Valley to the west.

The sharp relief provides a variety of habitats for plants and animals, ranging from Sonoran Desert scrub to alpine spruce-fir forest near the summit, making the mountain rich in biodiversity. It is home to one of the state's largest black-bear populations. The range is also somewhat of a melting pot for plants, serving as the northernmost extension of vegetation more common to Mexico and the southernmost terminus for flora from the Colorado Plateau.

With the end of the Ice Age 10,000 years ago, the Pinalenos became an isolated range that some biologists call "sky islands." One of the 18 species of plants, insects and animals found nowhere else on Earth but in the Pinaleno Mountains is the Mount Graham red squirrel.

While it is difficult to determine exactly how many red squirrels remain, there is no doubt that the subspecies is on the verge of extinction. Its numbers fluctuate annually between fewer than 100 and 350, depending on the quality of the cone crop from the spruce-fir old-growth forest and mixed conifers at slightly lower elevation.

As an isolated subspecies with only one population, the Mount Graham red squirrel is inherently vulnerable to environmental catastrophes. Yet the squirrel has survived fires and disease outbreaks over its 10,000-year isolation. But the impacts arising from human activities in the Pinaleno Mountains since the 1880s have greatly reduced the ability of the squirrel to survive future natural disasters.

Once ranging over wide areas of the upper reaches of the Pinalenos, the red squirrels' niche has been greatly reduced by logging, road building, fires and the introduction of the Abert's squirrel by the Arizona Game and Fish Department in the 1940s. The red squirrel's prime habitat has been reduced to fewer than 615 acres of virgin spruce-fir forest. The conflict between the red squirrel and UofA comes down to one thing: management of this spruce-fir old-growth forest.

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