PHOENIX – Rosemont Copper Co. agreed in principle this week to give the Arizona Game and Fish Department $10 million for programs protecting wildlife habitat around a proposed mine near Tucson.
The agreement, which depends on the mine receiving federal approval, would require Rosemont to purchase more than 3,500 acres surrounding the mine to protect wildlife and maintain recreational access.
It also would have to purchase 740 acre-feet of water rights that can be used to replenish and replace water affected by the mine.
“(Game and Fish) agreed to work as a habitat conservation partner with our funding,” said Jamie Sturgess, Rosemont Copper’s vice president of corporate development and government affairs. “The obligation of performance is still Rosemont’s, but they allowed us to help use their expertise and some of their professional skills to achieve our goals.”
Rosemont mine is a proposed open-pit copper mine in the Santa Rita Mountains, about 30 miles southeast of Tucson. Slated to be the third-largest copper mine in the nation, it would employ about 450 people.
The mine is in the advanced stages of design and is near the end of a review process that includes a final environmental impact statement and a record of decision from the U.S. Forest Service, Sturgess said. Rosemont anticipates only a few months left in the review process, he added.
The agreement in principle simply outlines habitat and wildlife conservation services that Game and Fish wants Rosemont to address should the mine be approved, said Jim Paxon, a spokesman for agency.
“We were concerned about habitat, about water resources and about the quality of recreation access for wildlife enthusiasts,” he said.
Paxon called Rosemont’s commitment to the surrounding area encouraging.
Because the Forest Service is concerned with the habitats of federal endangered species, Game and Fish is focusing its attention on a variety of Arizona “trust species” that aren’t endangered or threatened, Paxon said.
Those mentioned in the agreement include western yellow-billed cuckoos, Gould’s turkeys and the Mexican long-tongued bat.
The agreement forces Rosemont to create a conservation strategy that “would consider every single one of those species,” Paxon said.
Randy Serraglio, a conservation advocate at the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity, said no amount of mitigation from Rosemont is going to change the fact that “the mine would render the Santa Rita mountains virtually worthless in terms of habitat.”
At the top of the list of imperiled animals in the area is the jaguar, Serraglio said.
“There’s no way that that mine can coexist with jaguar habitat,” he said. “That alone is reason enough for stopping this mine, but of course there’s hundreds of other species that will be harmed by this proposal.”
The conservation group is also concerned about the effect the mine will have on federally protected Cienega Creek and Davidson Canyon downstream from the mine, Serraglio said.
“They provide 20 percent of Tucson’s natural groundwater resource every year,” he said. “That’s a huge supply of our water supply here in Tucson and, of course, the possibility of contamination there is very disturbing.”
Rick Grinnell, vice president of the Southern Arizona Business Coalition, said the proposed Rosemont mine would bring stability to engineering, transportation and environment protection industries in the area.
“Rosemont right now is the poster child for the argument and the need of real wealth-generating opportunities, particularly down here in Southern Arizona,” Grinnell said. “I’m very glad to see that they actually came to an agreement.”