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For Immediate Release, April 25, 2012

Contact: Tierra Curry, (928) 522-3681

Lawsuit Launched to Protect Rare Orchid in Path of Arizona's Proposed Rosemont Mine

TUCSON, Ariz.— The Center for Biological Diversity filed a formal notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today for the agency’s failure to make a listing decision on a petition to protect Coleman’s coralroot, an extremely rare purple orchid found in the footprint of a proposed copper mine outside Tucson.

“This beautiful orchid is found in only three places in Arizona and needs the immediate protection of the Endangered Species Act,” said Tierra Curry, a biologist with the Center. “The proposed Rosemont copper mine could erase it from the planet.”

After the Center petitioned for the orchid’s protection in 2010, the Service determined it “may warrant” protection as an endangered species but has failed to make a required 12-month finding to determine whether protection is indeed warranted.

The orchid grows only in one spot in the Dragoon Mountains, southeast of Tucson, and in two locations in the Santa Rita Mountains, where the Rosemont copper mine is proposed. It was described as a distinct species in 2010 based on differences from another rare orchid being considered for federal protection, Chisos coralroot.

Rosemont’s biodiversity is significant on a global scale. Hundreds of rare and endemic species occur on proposed mine lands. The Center has sought Endangered Species Act protection for four other species threatened by the proposed mine: the Rosemont talus snail, Sonoran talus snail, Bartram stonecrop and beardless chinchweed. The mine would destroy habitat for many 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.

“This shortsighted mining scheme will permanently pollute our water, ruin our national forest, kill endangered species, and cause air and noise pollution,” said Curry. “And it won’t do our economy any favors either. It’ll cause losses in tourism and recreation dollars that will not be made up by the relatively small number of mine jobs.” 

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, 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.

The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality approved the aquifer protection permit on April 3, which environmentalists will likely appeal.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 350,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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