The proposed Rosemont Mine has gained a preliminary thumbs-up from the U.S. Fish and Wlidlife Service, with a new draft biological opinion saying that the mine isn’t likely to jeopardize the existence of any of nine endangered species including the jaguar or destroy jaguar critical habitat.
In general, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says the damage to endangered species and their habitat from the proposed mine is not significant enough to make a difference for their long-term survival. That’s partly due to a long list of environmental mitigation measures mining company Rosemont Copper has proposed or agreed to, says the Fish and Wildlife Service report, which the Star obtained this week.
With the jaguar in particular, the service’s 418-page, Rosemont biological opinion says the mine isn’t likely to jeopardize its survival in part because there are 30,000 jaguars throughout the species range, dipping deep into Mexico and Central and South America. But only one jaguar is likely to be killed, wounded, harassed or otherwise negatively impacted by this copper mine, the new opinion says.
A favorable biological opinion on endangered species is a legal requirement for the mine or any other project that is permitted or built by a federal agency that is considered likely to negatively effect imperiled animals and plants.
This new draft must be reviewed by a group of cooperating local, state and federal agencies, and ultimately signed off on and finalized by the U.S. Forest Service. The service’s final OK of this plan would come as part of its release of a final environmental impact statement on the mine and a formal decision approving it, which the service hopes to make by the end of September. Regardless of the final decision, one side or another in this hot dispute is likely to sue to overturn it.
The jaguar has been a major point of contention among various interest groups fighting over this proposed mine. That’s because an adult male has been photographed several times in the mine site’s immediate vicinity in the Santa Rita Mountains southeast of Tucson. That male animal also has been photographed roaming up and down the mountain’s east flank since September.
The mine site and more than 850,000 other acres in Southern Arizona have been proposed as jaguar critical habitat, which legally can’t be destroyed or made unsuitable for the animal under federal law.
But even in the worst case scenario, the mine will cause at most 19,000 acres of critical habitat to be lost to the jaguar, the service report said.
That’s only 2.3 percent of all critical habitat in the jaguar’s entire range in the U.S., the new report said. That loss will be partially offset by the mining company’s plans to permanently protect another 1,727 acres within jaguar critical habitat that otherwise could be lost to development or other impacts, the wildlife service’s report says.
The service also reviewed the mine’s impacts on the following other imperiled species: the ocelot, the Chiricahua leopard frog, the Pima pineapple cactus, the Gila chub and Gila topminnow — both fish, the lesser long-nosed bat, the Southwestern willow flycatcher and the Huachuca water umbel, an aquatic plant. All but the frog are listed as endangered. The frog is listed as threatened.
The mining company has proposed to operate on more than 4,600 acres of private, state and federal land, lying about 30 miles southeast of Tucson. The mine is supported by many people because it would create 400 to 450 permanent jobs, many high paying, but is opposed by many others out of concern for its environmental impacts.
More on this story in tomorrow’s Arizona Daily Star.