Medicine Lake Geothermal Case to be Heard in Ninth Circuit Court May 14th

The long-standing challenge to geothermal leasing in the Medicine Lake Highlands will get a hearing in the Ninth Circuit Court on May 14th, this time in Seattle. A coalition of Native Americans and environmentalists, represented by the Stanford Environmental Law Clinic, will defend their earlier victory in U.S. District Court, which the Bureau of Land Management has appealed. In April 2016, the lower court invalidated 40-year extensions on 26 geothermal leases issued by BLM in the Medicine Lake Highlands, a pristine volcanic area and vital source aquifer for California’s water supply, 30 miles northeast of Mount Shasta.

Before the hearing and immediately following, tribal members and their allies plan to rally on the Seattle courthouse steps. The Ninth Circuit Court is located in the William K. Nakamura Courthouse, 1010 Fifth Avenue in Seattle, Washington. People are welcome to attend the rally to show support for the protection of sacred sites and pristine waters.

The longstanding challenge by the plaintiffs—Pit River Tribe, Native Coalition for Medicine Lake Highlands Defense, Mount Shasta Bioregional Ecology Center, and Medicine Lake Citizens for Quality Environment—is now in its 21st year opposing Calpine Corporation’s extensive plans to industrialize the area for extractive geothermal energy development.

In the 2016 ruling being appealed, the lower court found that the BLM failed to comply with rules and regulations in the Geothermal Steam Act when the agency extended the leases. In March 2017, BLM appealed that decision to the Ninth Circuit Court, which will be heard by a panel of three judges.

Geothermal leases issued in the 1980s cover 66 square miles of national forest lands in the Medicine Lake Highlands, in the heart of a 113-square-mile area that was designated a Native American Traditional Cultural District by the National Register of Historic Places. The Medicine Lake Highlands are sacred to the Pit River, Wintu, Karuk, Shasta, and Modoc Nations. Indigenous Peoples and environmentalists hold that the proposed geothermal projects would permanently damage this unique geologic area, transforming the Highlands into an industrial wasteland— with multiple power plants, noisy 24-hour drilling and lighting, landscape-fragmenting pipelines and transmission lines, water-polluting hydraulic fracturing, toxic sumps and plumes exuding dangerous levels of arsenic, mercury and hydrogen sulfide. Development would pose unacceptable risks to the huge pure aquifer that constitutes the source waters of the Fall River Springs, California’s largest spring system.

The upcoming case has a precedent from an earlier challenge to geothermal development by the coalition. In November 2006, the Ninth Circuit Court determined that the two leases for the first 49-megawatt geothermal project at Fourmile Hill just outside the Medicine Lake Caldera had been illegally renewed because BLM and the U.S. Forest Service had violated environmental and cultural preservation laws when they granted 40-year extensions to geothermal companies. That ruling found that the lease extensions “must be undone.” The current case, based on violations of the Geothermal Steam Act, challenges the lease renewals that would allow Calpine Corporation’s avowed plans to extend development for up to 480 megawatts.

From the Pit River Tribe’s perspective, the Medicine Lake Highlands are an integrated landscape and have been essential to the intergenerational transmission of traditional cultural values for thousands of years. Disturbing any part of the area with industrial development would destroy the sanctity of the entire Highlands.  In connection with ongoing litigation, Pit River cultural spokesperson Floyd Buckskin stated:  “This area is of utmost importance to the cultural survival of the Pit River Tribe, because it is still being utilized and still has spiritual integrity. Whatever happens to the Medicine Lake Highlands area affects our spiritual and physical existence.”

“We’re optimistic about the upcoming hearing,” said Michelle Berditschevsky, who leads Medicine Lake Highlands preservation efforts for the Mount Shasta Bioregional Ecology Center and previously served as the Pit River Tribe’s environmental coordinator. “We have challenged geothermal development for over two decades because the Medicine Lake Highlands are a landscape of the spirit, critical to the cultural continuity of tribes near and far, vital for biodiversity, and enjoyed by people from all over. It represents our commitment to keeping beauty and wellbeing alive in our region, and for downstream communities and farms that benefit from this immense aquifer.”


Mount Shasta Bioregional Ecology Center:

Bianca Garza, Communications Director — 813.892.3929, <>

Michelle Berditschevsky, Medicine Lake Highlands Project Lead, 530.926.3397 or

530.859.0893, <>

Pit River Tribe:

Agnes Gonzales, Tribal Chair — 530.335.5421, <>

Greg Feather Wolfin, Environmental Coordinator — 530.335.1118,

Natalie Forest-Perez, Tribal Historic Preservation Officer, 530.335.5421, Ext. 1205,


Logan Thomsen, Cultural Information Officer — 530.335.5421 Ext. 1207,

Native Coalition for Medicine Lake Highlands Defense:

Radley Davis — 530.917.6064  <>

Medicine Lake Citizens for Quality Environment:

Janie Painter, Director — 530.209.8369 <>

Stanford Environmental Law Clinic:

Deborah Sivas, Director 650.723-0325,