Center for Biological Diversity
Protecting endangered species and wild
places of western North America
Monday, June 11, 2001
IRONWOOD MONUMENT LAND DUMPED ON AND SOUGHT BY ASARCO CRITICAL FOR DESERT BIGHORN SHEEP LAMBING; MINING EXPANSION PUTS KEY POPULATION AT RISK
IRONWOOD NATIONAL MONUMENT, AZ -- Multi-national mining giant ASARCO/Grupo Mexico is seeking boundary changes that would remove of 400+ acres of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) public lands from the Ironwood Forest National Monument.. ASARCO has previously disposed "overburden" waste, or surface rock, on this site. The Center for Biological Diversity filed a Freedom of Information Act request June 4 seeking more details. BLM's interim monument management guidelines issued January 11, 2001 specifically prohibit any disposal of public lands within the monument boundaries.
Now that conservationists have learned the exact location of the land ASARCO wants to acquire, they are concerned about the threat to this habitat, as it is critical to the reproduction and survival of the last viable desert bighorn sheep population near Tucson.
"ASARCO has been sneaky on this because in the past they've dumped waste rock on public lands now within the monument." said Daniel Patterson, Desert Ecologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. "Instead of cleaning it up and restoring the habitat, ASARCO is pushing hard for a land-grab against the public interest." He adds, "More dumping and mining on this habitat will eventually wipe out the last bighorn sheep stronghold in the Tucson basin."
A 1996 Arizona Department of Game & Fish (AGFD) report documents the importance of this land to the bighorn sheep1. The report recommended much of the area proposed for mining in 1996 be protected by a conservation easement. The BLM rejected virtually the entire AGFD recommendation and allowed the mining expansion on to public lands.
The highest concentration of bighorn ewes and lambing sites identified in the AGFD report were found to be within or directly adjacent to the lands now sought be ASARCO (map available). The AGFD report further called for a 2-3 year continuing study designed to document impacts of increased mining. To date this study has not been initiated.
"This parcel needs to again be evaluated for its ecological value as bighorn sheep habitat and lambing grounds," said Carolyn Campbell, Director of the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection, which secured public support for the monument. "We know how important this habitat has been historically for the desert bighorn sheep, and we must assume it still is."
Designated June 9, 2000 with strong local support from hunting, recreation, and conservation groups, as well as Pima and Pinal County governments and the Tohono O'odham Nation, the 129,000 acre Ironwood Forest National Monument is biologically rich and culturally significant. Hunting, camping, ranching and other uses are still allowed within the monument.
"Ironwood Forest National Monument was designated to protect its extraordinary scientific and cultural values, including the Tucson area's last population of desert bighorn sheep," said Julie Sherman, Sierra Club Conservation Organizer for Arizona's 5 new national monuments. "Any action that puts this population at risk is clearly contrary to the purposes for which the monument was established."
"As a landowner within the monument boundaries and having spent years trying to protect the last remaining desert bighorn sheep population in Pima County, I find it ironic that on the eve of the first anniversary of our cherished Ironwood Forest National Monument, we discover the sad truth of ASARCO's exploitation of the public's land, the home of our desert bighorn sheep," said Myra Smith, a representative of residents of private lands within the monument. "We demand an investigation of this issue, a full public process, and scientific studies so the remaining desert bighorn sheep will not be driven into extinction like all the other herds."
The Coalition will be hosting a "Save the Ironwood Forest" rally this Saturday, June 16 at the Tucson Botanical Gardens, 2150 N. Alvernon, Tucson, from 7-9pm.
The BLM has scheduled a public meeting on June 21 from 6-9pm at Pinal Air Park in Marana on the development of the management plan and to provide an update on other Ironwood National Monument issues. The proposed boundary adjustment request by ASARCO will be discussed.
For more information on the Ironwood Forest National Monument, please visit: http://arizona.sierraclub.org/monuments/ironwood/ironwood.html