The New York Times published a story and photograph today on the impact of the nation’s only known jaguar and the possible development of the massive Rosemont open pit copper mine on the Coronado National Forest southeast of Tucson.
A male jaguar has been photographed several times in close proximity to the proposed copper mine that Vancouver, B.C.-based Augusta Resource Corporation is seeking state and federal permits to build through its U.S. subsidiary, Rosemont Copper Company.
The appearance of the jaguar near the mine site has now given the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service a critical role in the ultimate fate of the copper project. The Service is in the process of establishing critical habitat for the endangered jaguar.
If the Fish & Wildlife Service includes the proposed Rosemont mine site as critical habitat, the copper project will be dealt a severe blow because the mine intends to destroy 3,000 acres of national forest with 70-story high piles of waste rocks and mine tailings.
“That area is key for jaguar recovery,” Randy Serraglio of Center for Biological Diversity told the Times. “If we follow the law, as laid out under the Endangered Species Act, they will come back. They always lived there, until the U.S. government either killed them or chased them out.”
Mr. Serraglio told the Times that a series of photos of the jaguar taken this year in close proximity to the proposed mine site should be “the nail in the coffin of Rosemont Mine,” adding, “There’s no way the mine proposal can go forward if this land is designated as critical habitat.”
The Times reported that the public comment period for the Fish and Wildlife Service’s critical habitat proposal published in August will reopen this spring. A final critical habitat determination is expected by August.
If the northern Santa Ritas are designated as critical habitat, it would put into play the legal concept of “adverse modification” — which would prohibit the federal government from approving a project on public lands that would adversely modify critical habitat.
While the mile-wide, half-mile deep copper pit would be on private land, the mine would use public land as a massive dump site, destroying canyons, streams, springs and other habitat that is now being frequented by the nation’s only known jaguar (another jaguar was euthanized after being captured in southern Arizona in 2009.)
The Rosemont project would be among the top five largest copper mines in the US. It would be located in the middle of an intersection of three major wildlife corridors in the proposed jaguar critical habitat with visual evidence of a jaguar occupying the area. These factors combine to present a significant challenge that Rosemont will find extremely difficult to overcome.