Tuesday, March 20, 2007 10:01 AM PDT
By Dick Kamp
This is the second of a two-part series about recent mining activities in and around Santa Cruz County by Kamp, a Wick Communications Co, Environmental Liaison.
Santa Cruz County residents worry about a Rosemont Mine spinoff; Do jaguars worry, also?
Some residents of the Patagonia-Harshaw area have polluted wells. Ranchers and landowners in the San Rafael Valley were rattled when BHP Billiton began unsuccessfully looking for copper this year. Now the possibility of open-pit silver mining has them worried, particularly if possible evidence of a jaguar in the Patagonia Mountains proves real.
Hardshell mine: Augusta or not Augusta, or is that the question? In February, Vancouver, British Columbia-based Wildcat issued a report on its Web site that they had analyzed old Asarco drill cores and found substantial silver and zinc resources that they felt could be economically mined. Additionally, there is manganese and some copper. The silver would be removed from ore by leaching with a cyanide solution and the zinc by a chemical-electrical process known as solvent extraction-electrowinowing common in copper mines. According to Wildcat President Donald Clark, "We expect to widen the roads quickly (under a Coronado National Forest permit) by the third week in March. After that we will probably drill 3 exploratory holes on our patented (private) land. We'll have to see what we find at that point."
The company projects a 13.5 year mine life for a potential mine on 486 acres of federal unpatented mineral claims and about 135 acres of patented land.
Coincidentally, Clark is also a board member of Augusta Resources, owner of the Rosemont Ranch, which shares the same suite at the same address in Vancouver as Wildcat. The chief financial officer, controller, corporate and communications directors are also the same. However, Clark said, "Wildcat and Augusta don't really have anything to do with each other."
Both companies, or perhaps more accurately, the folks who make up the management of both companies are speculative purchasers of mining property, which they develop and promote. Neither has ever run a mine, and the term in the industry for Wildcat and Augusta would be "juniors," however Augusta has certainly taken the speculative development of the Rosemont mine quite far and has said that it intends to develop a mine.
The Jaguar: Mining disturbs some people; to others it smells like a job. But a jaguar, unlike mountain lions or deer or other animals that commonly observe humans, is different from animals we are used to-it stays very hidden.
Hunted close to extinction by the 1960s, the jaguar is an endangered species with a small population in Sonora, Mexico and a range extending south to northern Argentina. After not being seen in the United States for 25 years, one was photographed in 1996 and again in 2006 in the western New Mexico borderlands by Cochise County mountain lion hunter and rancher Werner Glenn.
Two different jaguars have been remotely photographed in Santa Cruz County by Borderlands Jaguar Protection Project (BJDP) founder Jack Childs of Tucson. Both Glenn and Childs are deeply devoted to protecting the animal. Childs believes that "a large scale mine in any of their travel corridors would be catastrophic to a viable jaguar population in Arizona." (Werner Glenn 2006 photo)
In October, a mountain lion hunter reported to resident Jon Coppa that he felt that the tracks he had seen - and a half-eaten bobcat found two miles east of Harshaw - were evidence of a jaguar.
On March 5, Sonoita resident Quentin Lewtin took photographs and collected samples of suspected jaguar scat in proximity to an area in the Patagonia Mountains with mining claims staked out on public land. He contacted the BJDP for advice as well as the Coronado National Forest, and was told that DNA sampling could help determine whether he had found evidence of the real thing. He is awaiting the availability of a University of Arizona lab analysis.
Childs is very conservative on accepting evidence of where Panthera Onca (jaguar) has been actually sighted. "We have documented the presence of jaguars in other ranges of the Coronado National Forest and BLM lands as recently as Feb. 22, 2007. Due to the wide-ranging nature of the jaguar, the possibility of a jaguar showing up in the Patagonia Mountains is a very real possibility.
"This fact alone should speak for the need to preserve our forests for a possible future jaguar population. The project only deals in confirmed (backed up by physical evidence) jaguar sightings and does not support the reporting of possible or unconfirmed jaguar sightings."
There is consensus that jaguars in southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico are part of a Sonoran population. From 1971 to 2001 there were no sightings or photographs in Santa Cruz County. It is endangered, but has no special protections in the United States under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). If the existence of a mine poses a risk to its presence, a hot debate, probably coupled with litigation, will ensue over how well federal land managers are protecting it under the ESA.
For now, adds Childs, "1,350 square kilometers is the minimum home range of one resident jaguar as calculated by camera trap photos. This possibly represents the largest home range ever recorded for one individual jaguar. Keep in mind that this is the only jaguar that has ever been studied in the Southwestern United States."
Withdrawing Coronado lands from future mining: So, where do these stories of jaguars and mining and local fears lead us? In part, to the commitment of Arizona Congressional Respresentatives Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) to address withdrawal from future mining of sensitive lands in the Coronado National Forest. Congressional withdrawal, under current mining laws, has limits but provides some protection to forest lands withdrawn. Legislation would not stop mining on valid mining claims existent at the time of withdrawal, but the validity of the claims would be examined, which might impact whether mining actually took place - and those who have claims could agree to sell out or to not mine.
Both Congressional representatives will be consulting with experts on the ecological values of the land. They'll listen to the voices of those who want mountains instead of tailings (seemingly the majority these days) and to those insisting that some lands need to be preserved to provide us needed metals for our standard of living and jobs.
Tom Colazzo, TNC Arizona Director of Conservation, suggests that interested parties look at the Arizona Nature Conservancy database that prioritizes conservation of lands throughout Arizona and surrounding states within five different "ecoregions".( www.azconservation.org/ecoregions.htm)
Colazzo adds "If asked by Congress to provide a TNC opinion on land values, this would be a national TNC decision. However, you'll find that Huachuaca Mountains Grassland complex-- including the Huachuacas, San Pedro Grassland complex, the San Rafael and Cienegas in the region surrounding the Patagonia Mountains-- would rank No. 1 in conservation values in the Apache Highlands Ecoregion. Scientifically, from the perspective of the lands in Santa Cruz County that the supervisors were looking at, I'd say the conservation rank is pretty darn high."