A Tucson environmental group sued two federal agencies Monday in an effort to protect the habitat of jaguars in Southern Arizona from the proposed Rosemont Mine.
The Center for Biological Diversity asked a federal judge to rule the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service violated federal law in their analysis of the environmental impacts of the proposed copper mine in the Santa Rita Mountains.
The center alleges Fish and Wildlife violated the Endangered Species Act and the Administrative Procedure Act by issuing new regulations defining damage to habitat and by revising the critical habitat designation for the jaguar, according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Tucson.
The service did not take into account all relevant factors, nor did it provide a “rational connection” between the facts and the service’s 2016 opinion that the mine would not jeopardize jaguars, ocelots and other species, according to the lawsuit. As a result, the June decision by the Forest Service that the mine would comply with environmental laws, which was based in part on the Fish and Wildlife Service opinion, is unlawful, the environmental group says.
The mine would turn thousands of acres of the Coronado National Forest into a “wasteland,” Marc Fink, a senior attorney with the center, said in a news release Monday.
“Even though the agencies found it would permanently damage endangered species and precious groundwater resources, they’re letting the mine proceed,” Fink said.
“Wildlife officials should be focused on jaguar recovery, not green-lighting a massive mine that will destroy the animals’ habitat and suck the Santa Ritas dry.”
The center said the mine would destroy most of the territory where the jaguar known as El Jefe has been photographed, as well as a corridor that allows jaguars to move between Arizona and Mexico.
The center also alleged the mine would damage nearby watersheds by permanently filling 18 miles of streams and depleting groundwater.
A spokeswoman for Hudbay Minerals Inc., the company seeking to build the mine, declined to comment on ongoing litigation, as did a spokesman for Fish and Wildlife in Arizona.
In 2016, the Fish and Wildlife Service said the conservation measures agreed to by the mining company would ensure the mine would not jeopardize the continued existence of endangered species. In the case of jaguars, those measures include minimizing noise, limiting vehicle speeds, monitoring jaguar activity and reporting annually to the Fish and Wildlife Service.
In the lawsuit filed Monday, the center said those measures are “not reasonably specific, binding, or certain to occur.”
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has not yet announced publicly whether the proposed mine satisfies the Clean Water Act.