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For Immediate Release, August 7, 2012

Contact: Tierra Curry, (928) 522-3681

Two Southern Arizona Plants Move Toward Endangered Species Act Protection

Bartram Stonecrop, Beardless Chinch Weed Among Species Threatened by
Proposed Rosemont Copper Mine

TUCSON, Ariz.— Two rare southern Arizona plants moved closer to Endangered Species Act protection today as part of a 2011 landmark legal settlement by the Center for Biological Diversity to speed protection decisions for 757 species around the country. Today’s positive “90-day finding” from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service kicks off a one-year review of the plants’ status to determine if they qualify for federal protection. Bartram stonecrop and beardless chinch weed are two of a dozen endangered animals and plants threatened by the proposed Rosemont Copper Mine near Tucson, which would impact more than 145,000 acres of wildlife habitat.

Bartram stonecrop
Bartram stonecrop photo © Alan Cressler. Photos are available for media use.

“These two lovely plants are in danger of disappearing, so we’re elated they’re a step closer to protection by the Endangered Species Act,” said Tierra Curry, a biologist with the Center. “The Act is 99 percent effective at preventing the extinction of the plants and animals under its care. These Arizona plants need all the help they can get because they’re in the path of destruction of the Rosemont mine.”

The plants occur in Pima, Cochise and Santa Cruz counties. Bartram stonecrop is known from only 12 locations and beardless chinch weed from 13, though several populations of both species may already be lost. Both plants were first known to be in need of protection in 1980 when they were identified as candidates for federal listing.

Beardless chinch weed is a tall yellow flower in the aster family that is found in the footprint of the proposed Rosemont mine and would be crushed by mining activities. Bartram stonecrop is a succulent known for its beauty that is found near the mine and  would be impacted by dust, water depletion, and the spread of invasive plants resulting from ground disturbance. Both plants are also threatened by livestock grazing, and the stonecrop is threatened by collection.

“The costs to endangered species, air quality and water supplies that would result from the Rosemont mine are simply unacceptable. You can’t wipe out endangered species, produce 1,200 million tons of toxic waste and withdraw 33 billion gallons of water and still claim to be ‘green.’ There is simply no such thing as a sustainable mile-wide open pit copper mine,” said Curry.

The Center is working to protect more than a dozen imperiled species threatened by the proposed Rosemont mine. Last month the Center filed a lawsuit to speed Endangered Species Act protection for Coleman’s coralroot, a beautiful purple orchid growing on national forest land in the mine’s footprint. In 2010, the Center petitioned to protect the Rosemont talussnail and the Sonoran talussnail. The Rosemont talussnail is now on the candidate list for protection and the Sonoran talussnail is now under status review. In addition to these species, the mine threatens other endangered species, including the Chiricahua leopard frog, Gila chub, Gila topminnow, Huachuca water umbel, jaguar, lesser long-nosed bat, ocelot, Pima pineapple cactus and southwestern willow flycatcher. Several candidate species would also be put at risk by the mine, including the desert tortoise, northern Mexican garter snake and western yellow-billed cuckoo.

“The diversity of the Rosemont area is significant on a global scale. The mine would be a disaster for hundreds of wildlife species and for the quality of life and economic health of people around Tucson due to air, noise and water pollution and to loss of tourism and recreation dollars,” said Curry.

The mine still needs several permits to move forward, including an air-quality permit from Pima County that has already been denied once, and a Clean Water Act permit from the Army Corps of Engineers that is pending. The Coronado National Forest released a draft “environmental impact statement” for the mine in September 2011, which has been severely criticized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as wholly inadequate and based on faulty science. In an extremely rare move, the EPA gave the impact statement the lowest possible rating and threatened to intervene if permitting for the mine proceeds.

Some of the most contentious issues surrounding the mine include impacts on drinking-water supplies. Concerns include impacts on existing wells in the area; plans to fill more than 150 stream drainages on the mine site; and a plan, yet untested in dry climates, to dry-stack waste tailings, a technique that critics fear will result in toxic pollutants leaching into groundwater during heavy rain events.  

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 375,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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