The Arizona Game and Fish Department will get about $10 million over a decade from Rosemont Copper for land, water rights and wildlife projects to compensate for impacts of the proposed Rosemont Mine, the department announced Tuesday.
The money is part of a new agreement between the mining company and the department. Reached last week, the agreement gives the department a 1,200-acre ranch in Santa Cruz County to manage, a $2 million conservation fund, and money for protection of “state trust species” that are important to the state but aren’t federally protected.
The pact will help pay for projects such as water tanks for wildlife and pond renovations, and will provide long-term recreational access to 2,000 acres of Rosemont-owned land if the mine is built.
The agreement was denounced as inadequate by a former Game and Fish Commission chairman, Bob Hernbrode, who opposes the mine, but welcomed by Coronado National Forest Supervisor Jim Upchurch, who will issue a final environmental report on the mine in November or December.
Game and Fish, which five years ago wrote a blistering letter opposing the mine in the Santa Rita Mountains southeast of Tucson, said Tuesday it now neither supports nor opposes the mine.
“We focus our energy and efforts on working to achieve the best results for Arizona and the wildlife resources we manage in trust for the citizens of our state,” Game and Fish Director Larry Voyles said in a news release.
Regardless of its wording, the agreement amounts to “de facto” support of the mine, coming at a bad time because of the impending Forest Service decision on Rosemont, said former commissioner Hernbrode, now a Tucson Audubon Society board member.
“It’s really not a question for me. It’s a question for my grandchildren, 40 years hence, and the legacy we leave to them,” said Hernbrode, who left the commission in 2009. “For the 20 years the mine is operating, it may be adequate compensation, but it’s not adequate for what we leave our grandchildren. What we do in those 4,000 acres or whatever it is they are going to use will be there forever. I do not believe they can recover that habitat,” he said.
Rosemont Copper vice president Jamie Sturgess said he’s pleased the game department has recognized the company’s efforts to integrate the best land, water and species habitat available into its mitigation program. That includes the habitat for state trust species, he said. “We appreciate the due diligence that Arizona Game and Fish staff took to finalize this agreement,” he said.
The Forest Service’s Upchurch said, “We appreciate any effort to try to find mitigation or reduction of effects for a project. We certainly appreciate Game and Fish and Rosemont trying to work together to come up with reasonable solutions to that effect.”
• Rosemont Copper, which had committed to buy the 1,200-acre Sonoita Creek Ranch in Santa Cruz County, will give it to Game and Fish to manage. The department will get $1.5 million over 10 years for fencing and long-term management.
• The department will get $3 million to maintain and protect habitat for state trust species, and $1.25 million to build water tanks and other water facilities for them.It will get $2 million for a Cienega Creek Conservation Fund.
• The company will finance a $450,000 study of the mine’s impact on wildlife movement, pay up to $500,000 toward construction of a wildlife crossing, and provide $480,000 for Rosemont-related conservation services.
• The company will give the department $400,000 for two renovated ponds for native and imperiled species, $250,000 to finance other conservation projects, and $150,000 to reintroduce the wild Gould’s turkey in Southern Arizona mountains.
• Rosemont Copper will include the 2,000-acre Rosemont Ranch in a program to permanently keep the land open for hunting and other access. If that land is used for mining, Rosemont would replace 1,500 acres with other conservation lands.
The agreement says Game and Fish recognizes the conservation value of Rosemont Copper’s mitigation plans, including purchase of some water rights for Cienega Creek and Sonoita Creek Ranch; and purchase of more than 4,500 acres of land.
Those mitigation plans have yet to win the endorsement of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Army Corps of Engineers and Pima County. EPA and county officials have said, for instance, that the water rights purchase isn’t adequate to help Cienega Creek. County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said the agreement doesn’t do much to offset habitat and wildlife impacts in Pima County.
But Game and Fish and Rosemont Copper say the programs and benefits “can be characterized as proportionate to the scope, scale and nature of the impacts projected for the Rosemont Copper Project.”
This agreement meets policies set by the Game and Fish Commission to seek compensation for wildlife and habitat losses from development, said Larry Riley, Game and Fish’s assistant director for wildlife management.
The agreement also comes a long way from a 2008 Game and Fish letter that said the mine would “render the northern portion of the Santa Rita Mountains virtually worthless as wildlife habitat and as a functioning ecosystem, and thus also worthless for wildlife recreation ... (The) land disturbance, traffic, noise, light and general mining activities will completely disrupt wildlife in the area,” wrote Joan Scott, the department’s now-retired Tucson habitat program manager,
Riley would not comment Tuesday on the department’s current position compared to that letter, but said he would address such questions today.