In a major development that could impact the permitting decisions on the proposed Rosemont copper mine on the Coronado National Forest, the U.S. Fish Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced today it is seeking to establish more than 838,000 acres as critical habitat for the endangered jaguar.
The proposed critical habitat includes the Santa Rita Mountains where Rosemont Copper is seeking permits to construct a mile-wide, half-mile deep open pit copper mine that would dump waste rock and tailings on more than 3,000 acres of national forest.
USFWS will begin a 60-day comment period on the proposed critical habitat on Monday, August 20. Comments must be received by Oct. 19. Requests for public hearings must be submitted on or before Oct. 4.
As part of the proposal, USFWS is preparing a draft economic analysis that will be used to develop the “final designation” of the habitat.
“If the Service determines that the designation of any given areas would cause unacceptable economic or other impacts, such areas could ultimately be excluded from the final designation,” USFWS states.
The Service will publish an announcement and seek public comments on the draft economic analysis when it is completed.
The critical habitat proposal notes that a U.S. Border Patrol agent spotted a jaguar from a helicopter in the Santa Rita Mountains in the summer of 2011.
Rosemont Copper Company wants to dig the open pit mine on private land it owns in the Santa Rita Mountains. However, the company intends dump waste rock and mine tailings on public lands.
The Forest Service is currently reviewing the Draft Environmental Impact Statement on the proposed Rosemont mine and its impacts on the forest.
The Tucson Sentinel is reporting that USFWS spokesman Jeff Humphrey said the habitat designation, if approved, would be a “proceed with caution” sign for federal agencies performing or permitting work in covered areas.
The Center for Biological Diversity hailed the decision as a major step forward in reestablishing the jaguar in North America.
“Today’s habitat proposal will ensure North America’s largest cat returns to the wild mountains and deserts of the Southwest. Jaguars are a spectacular part of our natural heritage and belong to every American — just as surely as bald eagles, wolves and grizzly bears,” the center said in a press release.