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Copper-Mining Fight in Santa Ritas Continues After Feds Protect Jaguars


Tuesday, September 7, 2021   

TUCSON, Ariz. - The battle against copper mining the Santa Rita Mountains outside of Tucson continues - even though the feds just handed a victory to environmental groups.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service just rejected a bid by a Canadian mining company, Hudbay Minerals, to remove critical-habitat designation for jaguars from 50,000 acres - the proposed site of the company's open-pit Rosemont mine.

Gayle Hartmann, president of the nonprofit Save the Scenic Santa Ritas, said Hudbay now plans to explore the other side of the mountain - the west side.

"The biggest problem on the west side is that it's largely not public land, it's private land," said Hartmann. "It's their mining claims, and they have bought more private land. So, they're trying to avoid federal law by sticking to their private lands."

In 2019, Hudbay lost a court case that halted preparations for the Rosemont mine, but that is now under appeal. The company, which did not respond to a request for comment by deadline, has invested tens of millions of dollars in its mining claims in the Santa Rita Mountains.

Hartmann said she wants to see the area returned to the Coronado National Forest in pristine condition.

"What we're looking forward to ultimately is that there would be sufficient funds," said Hartmann, "through the Land and Water Conservation Fund, perhaps - to buy out their private land and turn this back into a national forest without mining claims on it."

Only a handful of jaguars still remain in the mountains of southern Arizona. Sportsmen and ranchers have hunted them almost to extinction.

The area is considered an important wildlife corridor to lure the Mexican jaguar population back into their historic range.

Robert Peters, southwest representative for Defenders of Wildlife, said he sees jaguars as an iconic part of the American West.

"They're a charismatic, vital part of our natural heritage that was lost," said Peters. "And it's essential that we reintroduce top predators, like the Mexican wolf and the jaguar, because they're key components to keeping ecosystems functioning well."

Peters coauthored two recent scientific papers on jaguars - one on the feasibility of reintroducing them in Arizona, and one that identifies 20 million acres of possible jaguar habitat in Arizona, much of it north of Interstate 10.

Disclosure: Defenders of Wildlife contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Endangered Species & Wildlife, Energy Policy, Environment, Public Lands/Wilderness. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.

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