The Tohono O’odham Nation has asked U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to stop the Coronado National Forest’s efforts to expedite the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) and associated Record of Decision (ROD) for the proposed Rosemont copper mine.
“The Tohono O’odham Nation recently learned that the Forest Service plans to issue a Record of Decision on this matter at the end of September,” the nation’s Aug. 20 letter to Vilsack states. “This deadline certainly came as a shock to the Nation, as no such date had been previously mentioned.”
“This sudden urgency is simply unwarranted,” Tohono O’odham Nation Chairman Ned Norris Jr. stated in the letter that was cosigned by Frances Stephens, chairperson of the Nation’s Cultural Preservation Committee.
Norris requested a meeting with Coronado National Forest Supervisor Jim Upchurch in September to discuss the tribe’s concerns over the Rosemont project.
“We would hope that any Record of Decision could be delayed to ensure that the Coronado National Forest is able to hear the concerns of tribal leaders before making a decision,” Norris states.
Upchurch in July stated he wanted to release the FEIS and the ROD by Sept. 27 before new regulations take effect to meet the “needs” of Augusta Resource Corp., a Vancouver, B.C.-based speculative mining company that is a facing an ongoing cash crisis.
Augusta is seeking state and federal permits through its wholly-owned Arizona subsidiary Rosemont Copper Company to construct the massive open-pit copper mine in the Santa Rita Mountains on the Coronado National Forest southeast of Tucson.
New Forest Service regulations take effect on Sept. 27 that will require a minimum of 90 days of additional consultation with mine opponents prior to the issuance of the ROD, delaying its release until 2014, at the soonest.
Augusta has been telling investors in regulatory filings that it expects the ROD to be issued by the end of its Third Quarter on Sept. 30.
The Nation urged Vilsack to require the Forest Service to process the Rosemont project “under the new regulations rather than rushing a decision under the old regulations” in order to “ensure full tribal consultation and input from all affected tribes as required by the National Historic Preservation Act.”
Chairman Norris stated the Rosemont project would destroy 86 cultural resource sites, many with human burials.
“Tohono O’odham have frequented (the Santa Rite Mountains) for thousands of years to pray and gather traditional plants and other resources,” the letter states. “If this project is approved…that tradition will be destroyed.”
A male jaguar has been repeatedly photographed near the Rosemont mine site. It’s the only known jaguar in the United States. “The project may have disastrous impacts upon this animal and may destroy efforts to reintroduce (the jaguar) to the area in the future,” the Nation’s letter states.
The tribe also expressed its unhappiness with the way the Forest Service has conducted mandatory consultation with the affected tribes by allowing Rosemont to attend the meetings, and repeatedly deferring to Rosemont’s position at the expense of the tribes. “If Rosemont protested a tribal position, the Forest Service agreed with Rosemont,” the letter states.