WASHINGTON -- A federal appeals Court ruled that regulators were incorrect in concluding that areas of Pima County that are targeted for a new copper mine, are crucial to the preservation and survival of jaguars.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, a panel consisting of three judges, issued its ruling on May 17, 2018. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court ruling and has revived hopes for the Rosemont Copper Mine, which supporters claimed would bring hundreds of new jobs and billions of revenue to the area.
In a dissenting opinion, Holly Thomas stated that the record "amply supports" the government's conclusion that the land in Pima County was 'critical for the conservation of jaguars as they face threats elsewhere in their range.
The circuit court ruling was a "disappointing" decision, according to opponents of the mine. It puts endangered jaguars in danger.
Marc Fink, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, stated in a statement that he would do "everything possible" to protect this habitat for jaguars, and other rare animals, in a region.
Hudbay Minerals Inc. (the Canadian mining company that owns the Rosemont Mine) did not respond to requests for comment on May 17th.
The latest development in the 16-year-old campaign to develop an open-pit mining operation in the Santa Rita Mountains in northern Arizona. The Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit when the U.S. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided in 2016 that mining could continue, despite the fact that it was located on land designated as critical habitat for the survival of jaguars.
The federal district judge agreed and ruled that even though jaguars are not known to inhabit the area, the lands were still considered 'unoccupied habitat critical'.
The appeals court ruled that the lower court made a mistake. The court said that for land not being occupied to be critical, it must be vital to the survival and growth of the species.
The court stated that less than one percent of the jaguar’s range is located in the U.S., and that its recovery is "entirely dependent on the 99+% habitat south of the border."
Judge Danielle Forrest's opinion in the court stated that habitat that "may (or may) not be important to conservation of jaguars" is not essential for conservation. To conclude otherwise would make meaningless Congress's restrictions on the government’s authority to designate unoccupied critical habitat.
Thomas disagreed and said that although the Pima County Land was not the core territory of the species, the 'areas on the periphery' play an important part in ensuring the jaguar not only can survive, but also recover.
Thomas agreed with the majority in that the area wasn't occupied by jaguars despite photos of a single male taken as recently as 2013 showing the area. The appeals court stated that the claim of jaguars inhabiting the area was "based on irrelevant photos from decades after jaguars were listed as endangered, and a one-time sighting in a different mountain range."
Fish and Wildlife Service has not responded to our request for a comment. Fink, however, said that it was wrong to assume that jaguars do not exist in Arizona.
His statement stated that 'documented evidence of a Jaguar has been found in the northern Santa Ritas Mountains as recent as 2015, and at the proposed Rosemont Mine site'. "Jaguars, rare frogs and snakes that live in these mountains cannot be sacrificed to mining company profits."
It has been described as a "critical economic and job driver" for the area. According to reports, the mine would employ directly 2,500 workers during the construction phase, and 500 people when it is operational. The company claims that the average income of the employees at the facility would be more than twice the median income in Pima County.
Critics point out that the mine is likely to consume a large amount of water, and they cite reports about the water pollution caused by copper sulfide mining in the past.