FWS Approves Copper Mine in U.S. Jaguar Habitat

Published May 17, 2016

Over the objections of environmental groups, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has concluded Hudbay Minerals’ proposed copper mine adjacent to Arizona’s Coronado National Forest will not harm Jaguar’s or other endangered species in the area in its final biological opinion, a critical step for the projects final approval. 

The area is home to the only known jaguar in the U.S., called El Jefe, which roams between Mexico and Arizona.

Mitigation Key to Approval

The FWS found the proposed mile-wide, 3,000-foot-deep open pit Rosemont copper mine would not significantly harm the jaguar or other threatened and endangered wildlife, despite taking part of their habitat because the company is undertaking mitigation measures sufficient to prevent harm to wildlife in the area. The mitigation measures include permanently protecting 4,827 acres of conservation lands, establishing a $3 million fund for nonnative aquatic species removal and providing $1.3 million for habitat enhancement for two endangered bird species, and spending $2 million to purchase of water-rights for stream restoration. 

“Due to Rosemont’s commitment to off-set effects to species and habitats, the [biological opinion] concluded that the Rosemont project will not jeopardize the continued existence of any of the 13 affected listed species; it will not adversely modify proposed or final critical habitat to the extent that it precludes recovery of the species,” FWS spokesperson Jeff Humphrey said in an email quoted on Takepart.com

Hudbay Minerals, and its predecessor Augusta Resources which Hudbay purchased in 2014, has been fighting to open the mine for more than eight years, going back and forth with various government agencies to gain approval. The company has modified its mine and mitigation plans numerous times to satisfy different state and federal agencies objections. 

Augusta resources received a key permit for the mine from the Coronado National Forest in December of 2013, but the discovery an endangered ocelot also used or travelled through the area necessitated further modifications to the mining plan to satisfy FWS concerns. 

The project still needs permission from the National Forest Service and the Army Corps of Engineers. While Corps officials have yet to comment on the FWS’s recent decision, Babete Anderson, a spokesperson for the Forest Service, said in an email in the light of the FWS decision the Forest Service is leaning toward granting a permit for the mine. 

H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D., ([email protected]) is the managing editor of Environment & Climate News.