TUCSON (CN) — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service illegally green-lighted destruction of thousands of acres of habitat for one of the last wild jaguars in the United States for an Arizona copper mine, the Center for Biological Diversity said in a federal lawsuit Monday.
The open pit mine, planned for more than a decade on the eastern flank of the Santa Rita Mountains about 40 miles from the Mexican border, would obliterate about 3,600 acres of designated critical habitat for the jaguar. It would also reverse the groundwater flow under part of Las Cienegas National Conservation Area, which is home to endangered Gila chub and Gila topminnows, said Marc Fink, a senior attorney for the center.
It also would hurt the endangered ocelot, northern Mexican gartersnake, Chiricahua leopard frog, southwestern willow flycatcher, and western yellow-billed cuckoo, all in violation of the Endangered Species Act, according to the complaint.
“All of these species are listed as endangered for a reason,” Fink said.
The mountainous area north of Sonoita, Arizona and southeast of Tucson is in a transitional zone between the Sonoran and Chihuahuan desert.
The Fish and Wildlife Service could not be reached for comment after business hours Monday.
The lengthy complaint is the latest salvo in a decade-long battle between environmentalists and Rosemont Copper, a project of the Canadian corporation Hudbay Minerals.
The 20-year project would result in a mile-wide pit at the headwaters of Davidson Canyon, a watershed that feeds Las Cienegas, and a renowned area for hummingbird-watching. Many of the species listed in the lawsuit rely on the creek.
The Endangered Species Act forbids any project that would destroy or adversely modify designated critical habitat, which this project clearly does, Fink said.
Because of the number of species and the tenuous foothold many have in the desert environment, Fink says it’s not possible to build a mine there, legally, at all.
“It’s basically the entire ecosystem. We just don’t see how they can,” he said.
The Center for Biological Diversity asks the court to send the biological opinion back to Fish and Wildlife for review and the U.S. Forest Service approval of the mine rescinded.
Fink said he expects the decade-long process to continue indefinitely.
“This isn’t going to happen quickly. It’s going to be many months before we get into the heart of it,” he said.
(Photo shows Las Cienegas National Conservation Area.)