Medicine Lake Highlands

California

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Medicine Lake Highlands, CA

Medicine Lake Highlands is a tribal landscape located northeast of Mount Shasta in the mountains of northern California, and centered on the sacred Medicine Lake. The Pit River, Modoc, Shasta, Karuk and Wintu tribes revere the area for its natural healing energy and for its connections to their tribes' histories. For example, the Pit River Tribe believes that the Creator and his son bathed in Medicine Lake after they created the earth, and the Creator imparted his spirit to the waters. Because of the lake's sacredness, tribes from the coast of California to the Rocky Mountains use the surrounding area as a training ground for medicine men.

Medicine Lake Highlands is also a source of geothermal energy, sought after by companies that have applied for development permits from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), which manage the area. In the mid-1980s, three corporations bought geothermal energy development leases in the area from the BLM, without tribal consultation. All but one of the leases expired by 1998, with no development having occurred. However, the BLM and USFS renewed the leases for the next 40 years and then conducted an environmental impact statement (EIS) to determine what the effects of geothermal development might have on the area. The EIS concluded that development would have "adverse impacts."  

Then, in August 1999, a coalition of tribes successfully petitioned the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) to recognize the Medicine Lake Caldera (an oval crater within the highlands) as a Traditional Cultural District (TCD). In 2000, this recognition initially led the USFS and BLM to reject one of two proposed geothermal projects—Calpine Corporation's 15-acre Telephone Flat development located a mile east of Medicine Lake within the TCD. In reaction, Calpine filed a $100 million lawsuit against BLM and, in November 2002, the Bush administration approved the $120-million, 48-megawatt geothermal power plant. Because the entire Medicine Lake Highlands area has not been evaluated for its eligibility to the NRHP, nothing prevented the USFS and BLM from approving another geothermal project in Fourmile Hill, located one quarter of a mile north of the designated TCD. Calpine began drilling exploratory wells there, but the Pit River Tribe and the Native Coalition for Medicine Lake subsequently filed a land appeal with the Department of the Interior, temporarily halting the drilling. Yet again, however, the Stay Order was lifted and drilling resumed in April 2001. BLM also reversed its five-year moratorium on further geothermal development and welcomed the submission of new drilling permit applications. The final EIS clearly stated that both projects "[were] expected to result in potentially significant, adverse impacts to traditional cultural values." Tribes consider any drilling to be a desecration of the area's sacred ground, and power plants would introduce visual disturbances and noise pollution.

In May 2004 the Native Coalition, Pit River tribe and Mount Shasta Bioregional Ecology Center filed a lawsuit arguing that the BLM and USFS renewed the expired geothermal leases without taking the results of previous reports into consideration or consulting with tribes. At the same time, Calvert Asset Management Company issued a resolution requesting that Calpine "cease and desist development in the Medicine Lake Highlands" and, instead, develop a company policy on the rights of indigenous people by September 1, 2004. More than two years later, on November 6, 2006, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the BLM's and USFS' original extension of Calpine's geothermal leases at Medicine Lake violated both the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA). The agencies should have prepared an EIS before renewing the leases and should have included a "no action" alternative. Because the agencies violated NEPA and NHPA, both the five-year lease extensions and the subsequent forty-year extensions were undone (adapted from http://www.sacredland.org/index.php/medicine-lake/).         

For more information visit http://www.mountshastaecology.org/Winter2007/WinterSpring2006-7%20issue.html and http://www.mountshastaecology.org/Save_Medicine_Lake.html