Cost of Doing Business

Some would say wildlife is priceless, but do the same animals still hold ‘value’ when deemed an inconvenience or in the way of human progress? Take predators for example, who seem to become scapegoats or expendable when their interests and needs conflict with ours. Do we on a subconscious level see them as direct competition for space, food and resources? Can we co-exist with them and share or must we, by our actions or lack of, eliminate the competition?

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Whatever the reason they become one of two things – the forgotten victims, or in some cases the ‘poster animal’ for the cause helping to create awareness and positive change. We now know that everything in our environment is connected and all species including predators are vital for helping maintain a healthy balanced Eco-system. Organizations, researchers and even the average citizen are working harder than ever to ensure that these animals are given a voice and a chance to co-exist despite our continued pressure upon the natural world and their habitat. Along with the encouraging stories of progress we have made, are there cases in which the loss of wildlife is simply another cost of doing business?

A few years ago when I was writing the story about an ocelot who was photographed in the Santa Rita Mountains outside of Tuscon Arizona I started reading up on how a Canadian mining company HudBay Minerals Inc. was planning on building the Rosemont Mine, the third largest open-pit copper mine in the U.S., in the same area where the ocelot was discovered and where later the now famous jaguar El Jefe would be photographed. The discovery of the endangered ocelot would prompt the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to re-evaluate their original report (biological opinion) on the impact of the mine. Conservationists said that there would be no way species like the ocelot and jaguar could survive, or co-exist if their habitat was destroyed by the mine.

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Male ocelot, photographed on May 14, is the fifth to be documented in Arizona over the past five years.

Fish and Wildlife Services would later issue their final biological opinion coming to the conclusion that the mine would cause “significant adverse impacts on many of the species” threatening not only predators but also endangered birds and fish. They went on to say that despite this, the number of measures that would be put in place by the mining company, such as the hiring of biologist to monitor effects on wildlife and creating permanent protected areas of conservation lands, it would “not jeopardize the continued existence of any of the 13 affected listed species” or hamper recovery of species like the jaguar despite destroying part of their habitat.

There has been mixed messages among the agencies tasked with reviewing the mine. An EPA report stated that the mine would have adverse consequences on the water system as well as several endangered species including fish, frogs and birds that reside near local streams. The Army corps of Engineers concluded that any measures taken would not fully make up for the “unavoidable adverse” impact of the mine even with appropriate measures taken. The U.S. Forest Service said that due to the 1872 Mining Law, which is still applicable today, the project cannot be denied.

Government agencies weren’t the only ones in disagreement with each other on the mine and, the value of a single jaguar seemed to be something that divided wildcat conservation groups. Panthera’s CEO, and leading expert on jaguars, Alan Rabinowitz wrote back in 2010 that the occasional cat crossing the border from Mexico does not mean they have established territory or that there is even suitable jaguar habitat left in the U.S. Southwest. His feelings remained the same and he told The Star that other reasons should be found to save the landscape especially when resources are needed elsewhere where the data supports evidence of concrete jaguar recovery. Wildcat researchers Aletris Neils and Chris Bugbee who had been studying El Jefe are on the other side and disagreed saying that every single jaguar was important and that the focus should be on recovery of the species to its former range. They believe jaguars can be brought back to the area and that the public must weigh in on the decision.

In a federally financed three-year study by the University of Arizona study tracing the paths of jaguars and ocelot across Southern Arizona, researchers placed remote cameras at 250 sites across 16 mountain ranges capturing photos of a jaguar, ocelot, bobcat and mountain lion at two sites in the northern Santa Ritas. Both times, all four species were photographed within a 24-hour period, the researchers said. Melanie Culver, the study’s principal investigator and Susan Malusa, the study’s project manager told Tucson online that the habitat in the Santa Rita’s should be protected but they could not fully comment on the proposed mine as it wasn’t part of their study. Malusa said it would change things but they weren’t able to predict how.

David Chambers, an environmental consultant, told The Star that there was no definite answer as to whether the mine was “good or bad and, that it comes down to determining if the economic benefits outweigh the environmental and social costs.” Jessica Moreno of Sky Island Alliance said that not everyone cares about a jaguar named El Jefe. The critical issue of the water permits may be the best way stop the mine.

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El Jefe in 2014 – Image USFWS – As of early 2017 it has been about a year since El Jefe has been seen leading to speculations that something has happened to him or he has returned to Mexico.

Here are a few things to think about. Copper is in everyday items that we use from cars to cellphones, what are we wiling to give up or eliminate from our lives in order to protect our environment and wildlife? Do we invest more heavily in the technology to recycle and reuse existing copper or are we forever stuck having to mine for it and risk diminishing precious Eco-systems for materials like copper? As the human population grows demand for copper and other materials will increase and if it must be mined, who determines where the copper comes from? Kathy Arnold, Rosemont’s director of environment said in the article from The Star that if the demand for copper continues to grow it will have to come from somewhere and with about “30 percent of what we need being imported another country pays the environmental price for our consumption”. She goes on to say that it’s better to have someone like her watching out for the environment than in places where there are less or no proper controls.

What can be expected with a mile-wide, half-mile deep open-pit mine that is set to border the Santa Rita Mountains in the Coronado National Forest? It would bury 3,000 acres of surrounding public land generating more than a billion tons (1.25 billion tons) of toxic mine waste that will be dumped into 700-foot high “earthforms” and, it is expected to require “6,000 acre-feet of water per year”. It is clear that the mine will disturb, stress, disrupt and possibly become an additional form of mortality for wildlife in addition to the impact it would have on the environment, water supply and local people.

According to Rosemont Mine Truth, who continues to monitor this highly controversial project, there is a “possibility that HudBay could mine up to an additional 591 million tons of copper-bearing rock after mining in the pit is completed” further impacting the landscape, threatened and endangered species, water resources and ecotourism.  As it stands now a Clean Water Act permit issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and, final approval from the Coronado National Forest are required before construction could begin. A final decision is expected soon.

For updates and details on the mine’s progress, please head over to Rosemont Mine Truth on Facebook.

The Cost of Doing Business continues looking at few other projects elsewhere that are, or have the potential to impact the big cats and wildlife.

Jaguars of Steel

What do you get when you combine steel, sculpture and jaguars? Beautiful art that captures the spirit of the America’s largest and most endangered big cat.

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The Spirit of Macho B – Image Patricia Frederick on Facebook

Arizona based Equine Veterinarian Patricia Frederick, who retired to become a sculptor, creates an array of creatures out of steel. Although she initially concentrated on her first love horses, her extensive work includes the likes of dogs, cats, wolves and jaguars. She began her sculpting career working in clay then moved on to ceramics while obtaining a degree in painting. Later she took lessons in bronze sculpturing, and fell in love with it, but soon found that steel was more affordable and available making it her favorite material to work with.

Patricia tells the Tuscon Weekly that she doesn’t do “extreme realism, but rather takes a contemporary approach to capture “mobility and motion”. She starts by sketching the contours of the bones followed by an all-steel armature essentially “drawing with steel”.

The life-size sculptures completed in January capture the power, strength and agility of two very well-known jaguars Macho B and Corazón commemorating their lives as well as bringing much-needed attention to the plight of this magnificent cat that is literally hanging on by a thread. Macho B, who lived in Southern Arizona, was estimated to be about 16 years of age when he died surrounded in controversy. Until 1996 no jaguar to be seen in the U.S. and that was the first time Macho B, along with another unknown male were documented along the border.

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Macho B – Patricia Frederick- Image Granada Gallery

In 2009 Macho B had been caught in a snare set by researchers hoping to collar him, however things went very bad and he suffered greatly in a panicked attempt to escape. After 12 days he was found alive and recaptured but then “euthanized based on a diagnosis of kidney failure”. The situation read like a crime drama and The Arizona Republic reported that Macho B died from being mishandled and because he had become a victim and pawn “in a web of intrigue involving environmental politics, border security, greed and scientific egos.”

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Corazón – Image Patricia Frederick

Corazón, named for the distinguishing heart shape mark on her left shoulder, lived in Sonora, Mexico, in the Northern Jaguar Reserve 125 miles south of the U.S.-Mexico border. She was poisoned and her body burned on a private ranch. Researchers found that the tracking collar she wore was also destroyed, she was about 8 years old at the time of her death, and had a cub that would not have been able to survive without her. While killing a jaguar is illegal and Mexican law protects them, it does not stop the killing and no one has been prosecuted for the death of Corazón or any other jaguar. She had first been seen in 2006 as a young animal would be photographed on camera traps 30 times during the next five years becoming an icon to those seeking to expand conservation effort.

Patricia’s work is not only beautiful it has a distinct purpose each piece with an individual story to tell. They are meant to draw the viewer’s eye and attention, encouraging people to think about the highly endangered big cat and the adversity they face from habitat loss and fragmentation, poaching, agriculture, persecution, misconceptions and finally border walls. The jaguars of steel will endure, but the real animal will not if the species does not get the support and protection they need.

Both sculptures can be seen on tour which goes through 2017 and, if you would love to have one to display at home either indoors or outdoors, they are up for sale with all proceeds from these unique pieces being donated to both Sky Island Alliance and the Northern Jaguar Project.

For more information and to help support jaguar conservation efforts or make a donation please visit either Sky Island Alliance or the Northern Jaguar Project.

Little Cat vs Big Mine

When a photograph of a lone male Ocelot was snapped south of Tucson Arizona, in the Santa Rita Mountains last year it was cause for celebration and controversy. It turns out that this protected and endangered wildcat was photographed in an area where a Canadian based mining company had planned to build the US 3rd largest open-pit copper mine.

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The male ocelot, photographed on May 14, is the fifth to be documented in Arizona over the past five years.Source Tuscon.com

The Ocelot was photographed twice in 2014 with a remote-sensor camera operated by the University of Arizona, the same camera that had also taken pictures of an adult male Jaguar near the mine site.

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The Santa Rita jaguar…the only known jaguar in the US roams the Santa Rita mountains, a large portion of which would be destroyed by the Rosemont Copper project.Source Rosemont Mine Truth

The discovery of the Ocelot in April prompted the US Fish and Wildlife Service to reexamine its 2013 biological opinion that the Rosemont Copper mine would not unduly harm habitat for endangered species in the area, including the only known Jaguar in the USsource LA Times

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Conservationists fear a proposed copper mine would destroy important habitat for this endangered ocelot, jaguar in southern Arizona. (US Fish and Wildlife Service / University of Arizona) – Source LA Times

In the article published by the LA Times conservationists led by the Center for Biological Diversity based in Tucson said they have their minds made up. “The science is clear,” said Randy Serraglio, a spokesman for the center. “The Rosemont mine cannot coexist with Jaguars, Ocelots and other endangered wildlife whose survival is on the line. Beyond that, we may be witnessing the results of the good work the USFWS has done by making it illegal to kill jaguars and Ocelots,” he said. “Why would we want to turn our backs on that?”

A final decision has not been made, but the Rosemont copper mine faces obvious opposition for the devastating impacts it would have on wildlife, the water, air and the economy. A Facebook community called Rosemont Mine Truth was established and aims to provide the facts, source documents and truth behind this project.

Only time will tell if this Ocelot will be able to help put a stop to the Rosemont mine project and in a story of little cat vs big mine, I know exactly who I’m rooting for.