Center for Biological Diversity

Protecting endangered species and wild places through
science, policy, education, and environmental law.

Citizens prevail after two year battle to protect bighorn sheep, owl habitat

NEWS RELEASE: for immediate release Monday, June 9, 2003

Contact: Daniel R. Patterson, Desert Ecologist 520.623.5252 x 306 or 906.2159

TUCSON -- After two years of steady local pressure, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) ordered Grupo Mexico/ASARCO June 4 to remove an illegal pipeline, powerline and road that cross the Ironwood Forest National Monument near the Silverbell Mine. The ironwood and saguaro cactus forest area is important habitat for the endangered Cactus ferruginous pygmy-owl, and the last viable bighorn sheep herd in the Tucson basin.

“It’s about time,” said Daniel R. Patterson, Desert Ecologist with the Center for Biological Diversity and member of the BLM Science Team developing a plan to restore mining damage to the monument. “We’ve held the Bush administration’s feet to the fire to rid the monument of ASARCO’s illegal industrial blight, and the local pressure forced BLM to give them the boot. This is a good precedent for national monument conservation in Arizona.”

The Center for Biological Diversity, Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection, Desert Watch, the Arizona Desert Bighorn Sheep Society, Silverbell Mountain Alliance, Red Hill Landowners, and the Sierra Club have been negotiating since June 2001 with ASARCO/Grupo Mexico, Arizona Dept. of Game and Fish and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) over the fate of 432 acres in Ironwood Forest National Monument. An Arizona Department of Game & Fish study of bighorn sheep habitat found these lands in the Silverbell Mountains were some of the most important lambing grounds for the last viable desert bighorn sheep herd in the Tucson basin. ASARCO, a subsidiary of multi-national corporate giant Grupo Mexico, publicly requested ownership of these monument lands in 2000.

Conservationists proposed a variety of different alternatives to resolve ASARCO’s trespass while achieving a net benefit for the monument. ASARCO/Grupo Mexico refused all of these alternatives and countered with a proposal that they be given ownership of 100 acres within the monument, including their trespass sites, in exchange for giving up their unpatented mining claims on 332 acres of monument lands. Public pressure forced BLM to reject that idea.

A science team is currently working with BLM, AGFD and ASARCO to develop a plan to restore native vegetation and habitat in the trespass area. BLM made its decision to order ASARCO out of the monument after public comment this winter on an environmental assessment.

For BLM comment, contact Shela McFarlin at 520.258.7200.

Contact Daniel Patterson for a copy of the BLM order.


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