A Tucson environmental group on Monday filed a lawsuit against the federal government to challenge the proposed Rosemont open-pit copper mine that would destroy critical habit for the endangered jaguar.
The Center for Biological Diversity filed the lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and challenges the agency’s “biological opinion” which led to the approval of the mine by the U.S. Forest Service in June. The Forest Service is also named as a defendant in the case filed in U.S. District Court.
The $1.9 billion mine would be constructed in the Santa Rita Mountains on the Coronado National Forest southeast of Tucson. Toronto-based Hudbay Minerals is seeking state and federal permits to construct the mile-wide, half-mile deep mine that would dump waste rock and mine tailings on more than 3,000 acres of the national forest.
The mine’s footprint lies squarely in jaguar critical habitat, land that’s been scientifically determined to be critically important for the survival and recovery of jaguars in the United States, the Center states in a press release.
The mine would destroy much of the home territory of a male jaguar that was photographed more than 100 times in the Santa Ritas over three years. The area includes a critically important corridor that allows jaguars to move between southern Arizona and Mexico.
“The Rosemont Mine would turn thousands of acres of the Coronado National Forest into a wasteland,” said Marc Fink, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity.
“Even though the agencies found it would permanently damage endangered species and precious groundwater resources, they’re letting the mine proceed,” he states in the center’s press release. “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.”
A spokeswoman for Hudbay Minerals declined to comment on ongoing litigation, as did a spokesman for Fish and Wildlife in Arizona, according to the Arizona Daily Star.
The 3,000-foot deep pit would convert the mine site into a permanent sink, drying wetlands and potentially drying up much of Cienega Creek, the Center states.
The Cienega Creek watershed provides up to 20 percent of the annual natural recharge in Tucson’s groundwater basin, a vital resource that could be polluted and significantly diminished by the mine.
“The mine is so destructive it would permanently reverse the natural direction of groundwater flow,” Fink states. “It would degrade sensitive habitat in areas that should be set aside for the protection of endangered species, including the Las Cienegas National Conservation Area and the Cienega Creek Natural Preserve.”
The Cienega Creek watershed provides some of the highest-quality stream and wetland ecosystems in southern Arizona. Mine construction would destroy approximately 18 miles of streams and cause the permanent draw down of groundwater that sustains hundreds of acres of springs, seeps, streams and wetlands, according to the Center.
The mine would use 100,000 acre-feet of fresh water — the equivalent of 100,000 football fields covered in one foot of water — over the life of the mine. Groundwater would be pumped from wells in the Santa Cruz Valley, which could reduce water supply for the communities of Sahuarita and Green Valley, Ariz.
The Rosemont project still needs a Clean Water Act permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers before the project could proceed. The Corps’ Los Angeles district office recommended denial of Toront0-based Hudbay Minerals’ application for the permit in July 2016. The Corps has not issued a final decision.