TUCSON, Ariz.— The Center for Biological Diversity today filed an Endangered Species Act listing petition to protect Coleman’s coralroot, a rare, beautiful orchid growing in the footprint of the proposed Rosemont Copper Mine in the Santa Rita Mountains outside Tucson. The orchid grows in only three locations, two in the Santa Ritas and one in the Dragoons, southeast of the city. The plant was described as a distinct species this year based on genetic markers showing it’s separate from another rare orchid.
“This gorgeous Arizona orchid is severely threatened by the proposed Rosemont Mine, as well as by livestock grazing, drought, and trampling by recreationists,” said Tierra Curry, a Center biologist. “One population has already been lost, and without Endangered Species Act protection, the species is at risk of disappearing entirely.”
Coleman’s coralroot is the fifth species threatened by the proposed Rosemont mine for which the Center has sought Endangered Species Act protection. In June a petition was filed for the Rosemont talus snail and Sonoran talus snail; in July protection was sought for two other rare plants threatened by the mine, Bartram stonecrop and beardless chinchweed. The mine would also destroy habitat for several species that are already listed, including the lesser long-nosed bat, Chiricahua leopard frog and jaguar.
In its comments on the mine, the Arizona Game and Fish Department concluded that “[p]retending that this forest land will be returned to a functioning ecosystem in 20 years is fantasy.” Curry concurred, saying: “The Rosemont Mine will blast a mile-wide, half-mile deep hole into the heart of the Santa Rita Mountains and then dump the toxic wastes onto public land. Pretending that the mine won’t destroy habitat for the orchid and other threatened species is part of the same fantasy.”
The mine would lower the regional water table and cause water, air and noise pollution. It is opposed by Pima and Santa Cruz counties, local municipalities, state and federal legislators and local residents. A study by the Sonoran Institute found that if the mine displaced even 1 percent of travel and tourism-related spending in the area, the economic loss would be greater than the mine’s entire annual payroll.