The proposed Rosemont Mine is likely to lead to unintentional "harassment" of an endangered jaguar, but - contrary to an article and secondary headline in Wednesday's Star - is not expected to kill the animal, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says.
One adult male jaguar has been photographed several times within the last year near the proposed open-pit mine site in the Santa Rita Mountains southeast of Tucson. It is the only jaguar known to live in the wild in the United States.
In a draft biological opinion, the federal agency says it would authorize what's known as an incidental "take" of one jaguar living in the Rosemont Mine area.
Incidental take is a legal term meaning inadvertent death, harm or harassment of a federally protected species that occurs due to a legally permitted activity.
But in this jaguar's case, the wildlife service would limit the legal take to harassment, the agency says in its 418-page report.
The report says the mine's construction, operations and restoration work is expected to cause harassment by unintentionally disrupting a jaguar's breeding, feeding or sheltering.
Mine construction and operations are expected to cause a jaguar to shift its home range area and travel longer distances than before, possibly through less suitable habitat, the draft report says.
That extra travel would force a jaguar to expend more energy, and increase its potential for encounters with humans, vehicles, potential competitors and other stresses, the report says.
"It's reasonably certain that this jaguar will alter its movement patterns, and it may leave the Santa Ritas and go back to the Whetstones," Fish and Wildlife official Steve Spangle said in an interview Wednesday.
The jaguar was photographed in the Whetstone mountain range south of Benson, and east of the Santa Ritas, in November 2011.
"This animal will probably be disturbed and adjust its home range accordingly. It could be that it's just a slight shift in its movements, or he could decide to go back to Mexico," Spangle said.
If the mine's construction or operation did lead to the jaguar's death, the Fish and Wildlife Service would have to restart a formal process to look at the mine's impacts. That process could result in more detailed conditions for the mine's environmental mitigation, Spangle said.
"If we end up with a dead jaguar, it means we probably didn't put enough conditions in the biological opinion" to begin with, said Spangle, the wildlife service's Arizona field supervisor.
The report, which the Star obtained this week, says the harassment isn't likely to jeopardize the jaguar's survival as a species, or illegally damage critical jaguar habitat.
The proposed critical habitat that would be affected by the mine is a fraction of the entire proposed U.S. jaguar critical habitat, the wildlife service says. Also, it says there are some 30,000 jaguars living in Mexico, Central America and South America.
The draft biological opinion is being reviewed by the U.S. Forest Service. Its comments will ultimately lead to a final biological opinion issued by the wildlife service that would be needed for a final Forest Service decision on the proposed mine.
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Contact reporter Tony Davis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 806-7746.