The Rosemont Mine project would trash the waters of one of the world’s most diverse regions
South of Tucson and north of the Mexican border, in one of Arizona’s most biodiverse regions, is the Nogales district of the breathtaking Coronado National Forest. Running through this part of the Coronado are the Santa Rita Mountains, known by locals as the “scenic” and even “sacred” Santa Ritas. These mountains are part of a well-traveled wildlife corridor between habitats in the U.S. and Mexico, and the area hosts several endangered species including the jaguar, Chiricahua leopard frog, long-nosed bat and the southwestern willow flycatcher.
But, despite the beauty, uniqueness and recognized ecological importance of the Santa Ritas and the surrounding region, some still don’t want to protect this sacred area. While the Coronado National Forest is rich with wildlife and plant diversity, its lands are also rich in copper, silver and other precious metal deposits, making it a target for mining companies. Several open-pit projects are in the proposal stages, and one, Wildcat Silver, is in the drilling stage. Open-pit mines are particularly destructive operations because of the expanse of land and habitat affected, the long-term impacts to the landscape (most open-pits are simply left to leach into the surrounding environment once their extractive potential has been tapped), and the amount of water that is pulled from the local limited groundwater supplies and returned only as toxic tailings.
Right now, the proposed mining project of most concern to the Santa Ritas is the Rosemont Mine, a project being run by the Canadian company Rosemont Copper. Rosemont’s mile-wide, half mile-deep open pit would be dug in the middle of a major aquifer, or natural regional water source, and would require constant pumping of wastewater out of the pit to keep from flooding when operating. The tailings, or toxic mine waste, would literally be dumped on national forest land, and would cover an astounding 3000 acres of the national forest. Once all of the metal has been extracted (or, after the company has used and abused the Santa Ritas), plans for the mine indicate that the pit will hold the toxic water and never be covered – essentially creating a poisonous, leaky swimming pool that would further contaminate the groundwater, while endangering any wildlife that tries to take a bath or a drink.
Despite what Rosemont Copper (a company that has never operated a mine) may claim about bringing jobs to the area, the Rosemont project is actually all about profits for a foreign company that would come at the expense of the local economy, environment, water supply, recreation, and wildlife – including several endangered species like the jaguar, ocelot, Gila chub, desert tortoise and southwestern willow flycatcher. And no one is fooled. Local governments and officials from Pima County, the Tohono O’odham Nation, the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, the EPA, and the Arizona Game and Fish Department – who filed very strong objections – as well as countless area residents and businesses like pecan growers, wineries, inns, restaurants and ranchers all know that their lives and livelihoods will be disrupted by the mine.
The Forest Service is set to make a final decision on the approval of Rosemont any day now. The potential ruination of so many acres of public land, water and air is not going unnoticed; the permits Rosemont Copper needs to legally pollute the air have been appealed, and a permit to pollute the water is still pending. Everyone who cares about clean water and clean air, local businesses and wildlife knows that Rosemont is far from a done deal. Defenders is part of a coalition of groups fighting this mine and others in Patagonia, and we will keep fighting.
Courtney Sexton, Communications Associate, Defenders of Wildlife