The discovery of an ocelot in the vicinity of the proposed Rosemont Mine site, combined with other endangered-species issues, means more delay for the open-pit copper project.
The male ocelot was photographed there twice: on May 14 and April 8, says the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The ocelot was roaming in a 145,000-acre area in the Santa Rita Mountains southeast of Tucson where the Forest Service is studying the mine’s impacts.
It was photographed by a federally financed University of Arizona project whose remote cameras have also repeatedly taken pictures of an adult male jaguar near the mine site.
Why it matters: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wrote the Forest Service last Friday that it’s now legally required to start a new round of reviews on the mine’s impact on endangered species; the Forest Service can disagree but hasn’t responded yet. The wildlife service wrote a final biological opinion last fall saying the mine won’t jeopardize any of nine imperiled species known to live in and around the mine, or illegally damage critical habitat. Now, the wildlife service says things have changed.
Jim Upchurch, the Coronado National Forest supervisor, won’t comment much on this until later this week. But it’s now going to be impossible for his agency to make a final Rosemont decision by the end of June, he said. That’s been Rosemont Copper’s target date. While other factors are involved, endangered-species issues override everything else, Upchurch said Wednesday. The company has been trying to get permits for the mine, which would employ at least 400 people, since 2007.
About the cat: It’s the fifth male ocelot documented in Arizona in five years. The Arizona Game and Fish Department reported two ocelots in the Huachuca Mountains. The Sky Island Alliance conservation group photographed one in the Whetstone Mountains. Another was discovered after being killed by a car near Globe.
Other endangered-species issues: The wildlife service notes that the final Rosemont environmental impact statement found that the mine could do more damage to Cienega Creek and Empire Gulch east of the mine site than previously thought. The final statement found that flows in Empire Gulch, a Cienega tributary, and in Cienega could be reduced 50 years after the mine closes.
Low flows or stream drying could affect five imperiled species living in or near those creeks, the wildlife service wrote. Included: the Huachuca water umbel plant, the Gila chub and Gila topminnow fish, the Southwestern willow flycatcher bird and the Chiricahua leopard frog.
Also, the service plans to make final decisions soon on whether to list two other rare species known to live near the mine as endangered or threatened: the northern Mexican garter snake and the Western yellow-billed cuckoo. Proposals or decisions to select critical habitat for the two are coming later. Because of that, those species merit review regarding Rosemont, the wildlife service now says.
What others say: Rosemont Copper president/ CEO Rod Pace said late Wednesday that the ocelot was photographed three to four miles south of the mine area; the Forest Service would not comment on how close it was to the mine. Pace said no additional analysis is needed because it was already known ocelots likely lived in the Santa Ritas.
Sergio Avila, a cat biologist for the Sky Island Alliance, said the wildlife service’s letter and the many critical-habitat designations in this area shows the quality of habitat there is very high: “Imagine how rich this place is.”
What’s next: The wildlife service and the Forest Service will jointly decide whether to restart the species reviews, said Steve Spangle, a wildlife service field supervisor. If the Forest Service disagrees, both agencies would seek legal advice, he said.