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58 In the late 1990s the Access Fund found itself in what its leaders saw as a no-win situation. In the fund’s 1997 online newsletter, Senior Policy Analyst Sam Davidson expressed concern that the rising incidence of conflicts between Indians and climbers at Cave Rock was damaging climbers’ standing in the eyes of the public. He portrayed the climbers as beleaguered, saying: “Even our best and most compassionate efforts are causing our reputation to suffer.” His “compassion” came into question in the following sentence when he termed the disputed properties “so-called ‘sacred sites’” and went on to ask if there was anywhere climbing could be pursued where traditional Native Americans would not be offended. Should climbers abandon “every rock that Native Americans assert has spiritual value?” Regarding Cave Rock, which in the traditional Washoe view was a crossroads between the spiritual worlds above and below the earth, he wrote: “It’s tough to be a force great enough to upset ‘the equilibrium between earth and the spiritual realms.’”1 The next Access Fund newsletter featured protests from several climbers regarding Davidson’s comments. “The claim that Native Americans are ‘picking on’ climbers since we are seen as a ‘repressed and politically powerless’ group is ludicrous,” wrote one. Another agreed: “The Native American community has been so brutally raped that its few surviving members couldn’t possibly represent a threat to the climbing community .” Objecting to the Access Fund’s defense of climbers’ rights at Cave Rock, the writer continued, “This is not a question of legality. It is a question of ethics and respect.” Another writer found Davidson’s editorial snide and lacking in respect for the religious beliefs of Native Americans. Calling the piece “imperialistic garbage,” the writer concluded: “I am totally appalled at the position you have taken on this issue and wish to be removed from your membership roster.”2 s e v e n Common or Uncommon Ground common or uncommon ground   59 Davidson responded, in the same newsletter, that he meant no disrespect to Native Americans. Climbers should support the efforts of Native people to revive their cultures, he said; but he wanted to see climbing values preserved as well. He feared a domino effect if climbers voluntarily agreed not to climb at sacred sites. Davidson cited the Devil’s Tower/ Bear Lodge precedent, with its voluntary June closure, as a well-balanced and commendable solution to such problems and hoped it would be used as a basis for other negotiations.3 The chances of the Access Fund winning a similar resolution at Cave Rock rested with the man who would make the decision: Juan Palma, the newly appointed acting supervisor for the Forest Service’s Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit.4 Palma had a degree in business management from Oregon State University and a master’s degree in environmental sciences from the University of Nevada. At the time the Western Regional Office appointed Palma the acting supervisor for Lake Tahoe, his experience included stints as a budget officer, administrative officer, district ranger, and deputy forest supervisor.5 When Palma took up his post in spring 1997, climbing at Cave Rock was already a topic of conversation in distant venues. A May 18 article in the Chicago Sun-Times, for example, reflecting the Washoe perspective , commented: “The Washoe Indians, watching rock climbers crawl over one of their most sacred sites, wonder how the visitors would feel if teenagers slung ropes over the Western Wall [in Jerusalem] to practice rappelling. Or if rock climbers took to scaling the steeple of the National Cathedral. What if dirt bike racers rumbled each weekend through the Gettysburg battlefield?”6 When the previous supervisor, Robert Harris, had instituted the temporary climbing ban at Cave Rock, the Forest Service had received considerable public input—most of it from climbers. The Access Fund’s strategy to eliminate the ban included mobilizing its constituents to overwhelm the decision makers with protests. The group had put out a call for responses, exhibiting sample letters online that its members might copy to send to the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit. The Access Fund had already appealed the closure to the Forest Service’s Western Regional Office before Palma took his new position. The actions created pressure on the new Lake Tahoe supervisor to act quickly.7 Palma later said of the process involved in his decision making: “I deal with a lot of issues like [Cave Rock] every day of my life...


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MARC Record
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