Conservation Wins over Mining Exploration in Arizona’s Mountain Empire

Originally posted by the Patagonia Area Resource Alliance. 16/09/2015.

A federal district court in Arizona put the brakes on an environmentally destructive exploratory mineral drilling project in the Coronado National Forest near Patagonia, Arizona, saying the Forest Service failed to conduct the appropriate environmental review before fast-tracking the approval of the “Sunnyside” project.

In October 2014 conservation groups Defenders of Wildlife and the Patagonia Area Resource Alliance filed a lawsuit claiming the Forest Service’s approval violated environmental laws and posed a threat to endangered species in the area.

“This is a great victory for the many species of imperiled wildlife that call the Coronado National Forest and the Mountain Empire region home, especially the jaguar, Mexican spotted owl, ocelot and yellow-billed cuckoo, all of which are already at risk from multiple projects in the region,” Rob Peters from Defenders of Wildlife.

“The court’s ruling against this destructive mining operation is the best thing that could have happened for the residents of Patagonia and for the incredible and diverse wildlife in the area,” said Peters.

“We’re not going to stand by and let the Forest Service rubber-stamp these mining projects in the Patagonia Mountains. There’s too much at stake for both our community and wildlife. This is the second time we’ve had to take them to court, and the second time we’ve won,” Wendy Russell, Patagonia Area Resource Alliance.

Background:
The Canadian mining company Regal Resources’ Sunnyside Project (an exploratory mining operation) involves drilling six exploratory holes for copper deposits up to 6,500 feet deep roughly five miles from the town of Patagonia, Arizona. The Forest Service issued a “categorical exclusion” decision which essentially fast-tracked the mineral drilling exploration and approved the project without involving the public or taking a hard look at the project’s impacts to endangered species. The decision authorized Regal Resources to run its drill rigs for at least five months in sensitive endangered species’ habitat. Loud mineral drilling operations and construction would occur 24 hours a day, seven days a week (using artificial lighting at night) with total project operations and reclamation lasting up to three years.

In January of this year, the Forest Service temporarily withdrew approval for the Sunnyside project until it completed consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to determine whether the project would significantly affect the western yellow-billed cuckoo, which is listed as a federally threatened species. After completing the consultation and concluding that there would be no significant effects, the Forest Service re-issued its approval for drilling to proceed in April, 2015.

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