Mining threatens important habitat on the Coronado National Forest

Ocelot (photo: USFWS)

(Written with help from Matt Clark and Heather Murray.)

Defenders of Wildlife, along with a diverse set of partner groups, submitted comments this week on the Rosemont Mine proposal on the Coronado National Forest in Arizona.  The proposed open pit mine, just southeast of Tucson, would have a direct impact on 4,500 acres of the Santa Rita Mountain range, as well as impacts that would radiate far beyond the project’s footprint.

The Coronado NF provides vital recovery habitat for rare cats including the elusive jaguar and ocelot.  Last year a jaguar was spotted in the region for the first time in three years. In fact, this male jaguar was sighted roaming in a mountain range directly adjacent to the Santa Ritas, where Rosemont wants to dig its mine.  This come back story for jaguars can only carry on if intact, connected, suitable jaguar habitat is prioritized and protected in the region.  Projects of this size and scale on what is currently undisturbed suitable jaguar habitat give us great pause.

As the project proposal has been developed, some important species surveys needed to determine what wildlife would be impacted have not been completed.  Information related to biological resources has not been made available to the public, and impact analysis of key biological and hydrologic resources in the Rosemont area are lacking.  Similarly, analyses of the project’s potential contribution to climate change are completely inadequate.

As the comment letter states:  “The biological and ecological resources of the Rosemont area are unique and of both national and international significance. Hundreds of rare and regionally endemic species occur in the project area.  Neither the Proposed Action nor the Preferred Alternative . . . identify mitigation that is adequate to protect the Rosemont area’s biological resources.”

Groups highlighted a host of other concerns in the letter, from water quality impacts and water volume use to increased traffic and air pollution.  One key request from all groups is for the Forest Service to do its due diligence and provide a supplemental environmental review that fully analyzes the potential threats and impacts.  We will continue to push for additional information to be gathered and reviewed.

Similar issues have come up in other mining projects on the Coronado NF – major environmental impacts with insufficient review.  In fact, Defenders recently challenged an exploratory mining project in the region that was approved without NEPA review.

Last month, Defenders filed suit against the Forest Service in response to its approval of the Hardshell Minerals Exploration Project – located in the Patagonia Mountains approximately five miles south of the town of Patagonia, AZ – which would allow for the drilling of fifteen exploratory holes in an area known for its pristine natural landscapes and rich biological diversity.  The project as approved would involve around-the-clock drilling seven days a week, increase traffic to and from the area, and create significant noise and light impacts, among others.  Perhaps most alarming is that this mining company started a wildfire that burned almost 400 acres of the Coronado NF while conducting similar activities on their private in-holding adjacent to the proposed project area last May.

Despite the potential effects of this project on threatened and endangered species in the area – including the jaguar, ocelot, Mexican spotted owl, and lesser long-nosed bat – the Forest Service approved this project without NEPA environmental review.  Likewise, the Forest Service failed to consider the fact that two other similar exploration projects are currently proposed within just a few miles of the Hardshell project, greatly expanding the overall footprint of exploratory drilling in this area.  Defenders is concerned about the significant and cumulative environmental impacts of exploratory drilling at multiple sites in this Sky Island mountain range and the broader region.

It might not come as a surprise to learn that Rosemont Copper and Wildcat Silver, the two companies pushing for these mines to be permitted, are not only both Canadian-owned companies, but they also share some of the same board members. We are making sure that these companies follow the letter of the law to avoid undue harm to our precious wildlife, water and natural heritage.

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- who has written 13 posts on dotWild.

Addie Haughey is the Federal Lands Associate for Defenders of Wildlife. Addie works within Defenders’ Federal Lands Program in Washington, DC to advocate for wildlife on our National Forests and on other public lands.

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