The State Game and Fish Department laid out its rationale for entering into a conservation agreement with Rosemont Copper this week in this series of questions and answers that it has posted on its website.

It said that basically that while it lacks authority over whether to permit the mine in the Santa Rita Mountains, "the mission of the Arizona Game and Fish Department is to conserve and protect Arizona’s wildlife and wildlife habitat resources. If we were silent throughout this permit process, we would not be meeting our mission."

The department also said that it entered into the agreement with Rosemont Copper at this time because it needed to do so "to have any influence on the federal mining permit process.

"The Forest Service will soon issue a final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and a draft Record of Decision (ROD). We had to act now so our negotiated Agreement (and all the commitments reached with Rosemont Copper) would be part of the official permitting process. We requested that the Forest Service include the Agreement in Principle in the Record of Decision," the department said on its website.

The department also said that the State Game and Fish Commission hasn't taken a position on the controversial mining project -- a project now under discussion for more than six years.

"Throughout the process, the only position taken by the commission has been to protect and conserve Arizona wildlife. In fact, to ensure a full and fair discussion of all known or anticipated adverse environmental impacts, the department has been filing detailed biological and hydrological comments with the Forest Service for the last five years."

The department's FAQs didn't discuss why the department has apparently changed its own position from being strongly opposed to the mine back in 2008, when then-Game and Fish official Joan Scott of the department's Tucson office wrote a letter to the Forest Service blasting the project. The Star asked the department on Wednesay to explain that apparent change. So far, it hasn't responded, although it responded to two other questions put to Game and Fish Assistant Director Larry Riley.

Here they are. Riley is an assistant director for wildlife management.

Q. How long did the department negotiate with Rosemont Copper to reach this agreement? I presume that there were such negotiations, correct?
A. We work very closely with the Coronado National Forest on virtually all aspects of Forest Management relative to wildlife, wildlife-associated recreation, and wildlife management. From that perspective, we’ve been engaged with the Forest Service on this subject since the outset of the proposed project. We began discussions with Rosemont Copper Company directly in September of last year. Our discussions revolved around the role that the Commission might play as a conservation lands holder. The Department believes strongly that any approach to offset effects of the project should address wildlife comprehensively. Federal requirements could compel certain measures for waters of the United States (important wildlife habitat) and Threatened and Endangered Species. But our concerns extended to the wider scope of Arizona’s wildlife trust species (nonlisted wildlife) and the public’s ability to enjoy that wildlife. To make progress toward our concerns, discussions evolved to include non-regulatory negotiated measures that Rosemont would agree to implement working with the Department.
Q. Your department wrote more than 30 pages of detailed comments on the Preliminary Final Rosemont EIS, the majority of which were critical in nature of the EIS. Does this agreement satisfies all, most or many of the concerns the department laid out in those EIS comments?
A. The Department provided comments and recommendations to the Forest Service on the PFEIS.  The Department has been serving as a Cooperating Agency since the initiation of the NEPA process. As our letter transmitting those comments to Mr. Upchurch indicated, we take our role as Cooperator very seriously, and our comments and recommendations were intended constructively to help improve the EIS. That letter pointed out our concerns for Arizona state trust species and the importance of disclosing effects in the EIS. This agreement in principle will lead to detailed agreements for implementation. Combining negotiated measures with the federal requirements broadens the scope of Rosemont’s land, water, and habitat conservation program, influencing the contents of the Record of Decision and enforceable commitments. We will have to await publication of the Final Biological Opinion, FEIS and ROD, and Corps of Engineers 404 permit. With our agreement in principle combined with the federally enforceable requirements, we believe that Rosemont has addressed the Commission’s policy guidance.
The Game and Fish website also contains links to the agreement itself, and the department's comments on the Forest Service's preliminary Rosemont Final Environmental Impact Statement, and the Fish and Wildlife Service's biological opinion on the mine.