The Rosemont Ranch consists of 2960 deeded acres located in the Santa Rita Mountains south of Tucson, along with 18,000 acres of grazing leases within the Coronado National Forest and adjoining state lands, for a total of about 20,960 acres. The Ranch includes the crest of the mountains, sloping down and including the ghost town of Helvetia on the west. To the east, the ranch includes the oak-studded hills of Rosemont Junction and Barrel Canyon, draining into Davidson Canyon. To the north lies Mt. Fagan, and to the south lies Box Canyon. This area can be viewed from a scenic roadside pullout along Scenic Highway 83.
For the past several decades various mining companies have attempted to mine the Rosemont Valley. In 1970, the Anaconda Copper Company attempted a land exchange to obtain these lands from the Forest Service, and conducted the necessary studies to facilitate the land exchange. Subsequently, a merger of Anaconda and the AMAX mining interests resulted in the ANAMAX Corporation. At that time, Anamax owned 1,465 acres of patented claims in the Helvetia-Rosemont mining district, and had a patent application pending for an additional 388 acres. ANAMAX subsequently became ASARCO Mining, Inc., and in the early 1990’s patented additional lands in the area.
In 1995, ASARCO proposed a land exchange to the Forest Service for 13,272 acres of Forest Service lands, or more than 20 square miles, surrounding their private lands. These lands were required, according to ASARCO, to provide additional areas for disposal of overburden and mine tailings, and to provide a land-use buffer for the copper mine.
In 1996, Save the Scenic Santa Ritas Association (SSSR) formed as a non-profit organization, to stop the land exchange. Over a hundred people were actively involved in the effort, and almost 3,000 people signed petitions opposing it. SSSR was endorsed by 55 local groups, ranging from hunting, off-road vehicle and gun clubs, to neighborhood associations, hikers and birders. A campaign coordinator was hired to help with the political, administrative, fundraising, and media work.
SSSR also garnered the support of the local governments. In May of 1997, the Pima County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to oppose the proposed Rosemont Ranch Land Exchange. This resolution stated, “the public interest of Pima County and southern Arizona will . . . not be furthered by the proposed Rosemont Land Exchange.” The Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors and the Tucson City Council also passed unanimous resolutions against the land exchange that year.
All three major local governmental bodies gave similar reasons for opposing the swap: the loss of access to 20 square miles of public land, and the resulting stresses on remaining public land in the area; the loss of recreational opportunities for residents of, and visitors to, southern Arizona; the potential negative impacts on our tourism-based economy; the potential harm to wildlife as management of this diverse habitat passed from the Forest Service to a private corporation; the negative impact on the overall quality of life in southern Arizona; and several other reasons.
In early 1998, largely due to the efforts of Save the Scenic Santa Ritas, ASARCO withdrew the proposal. The Coronado National Forest Supervisor John McGee announced to the press that “he and ASARCO have mutually agreed to terminate the Memorandum of Understanding related to potential copper mine development or land exchange in the Santa Rita Mountains.”
Although the immediate threat of a land exchange and copper mine was halted, there remained over 13,000 acres of unpatented mineral claims in the National Forest, as well as the unresolved situation with the private lands at Rosemont. SSSR continued to monitor land issues in the Rosemont Ranch area.
In 2004, the Ranch was sold by ASARCO to a new owner who was considering conservation instead of mining, and was willing to sell all or a portion of the Ranch to Pima County. In late 2004, Pima County prepared a report to evaluate the potential benefits of acquiring the Rosemont Ranch and associated water and mineral rights for open space preservation. It was hoped that 2004 Open Space Bond Ordinance money could be used for the purpose.
However, most of the Rosemont Ranch was not included in list of properties for the 2004 Bond Ordinance for various reasons. A portion of the Rosemont Ranch property, the Helvetia site, is included in Pima County’s 2004 Bond Ordinance for acquisition and preservation as an historic mining community. The balance of the Rosemont fee and lease property contains important cultural resources and is almost entirely within the designated biological core area of the Multiple Species Conservation Plan of the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan.
Since Pima County was not able to purchase Rosemont Ranch, the owner instead sold the property to Augusta Resource Corporation, a Canadian company, in 2005. Augusta began conducting exploration activities to better define the extent and quality of the ore deposit almost immediately, with the intent to mine for copper and molybdenum.
In 2005, in response to several proposals to open new mines on State Lands in the Davidson Canyon area (downstream from the Rosemont site), Pima County passed another resolution. This resolution opposes those specific mines, but also states that “Pima County opposes new mineral leases, mineral lease renewals, and mining claims in the County’s Conceptual Cienega Valley and Cerro Colorado Reserves, as well as those that would negatively impact the Reserves by degrading the biological and economic values of lands adjacent to the reserves.”
On July 31, 2006, Augusta submitted a mining plan of operations to the Forest Service in Tucson. The Forest Service returned that plan due to lack of detail. Augusta submitted a new mining plan in July, 2007 for the Rosemont Copper Mine. The Forest Service has requested more information regarding their water source and other technical information.
In March of 2008, the Forest Service announced the initiation of the NEPA process and their intent to prepare an environmental impact statement. The Draft EIS was released in the fall of 2011, and the public comment period ended in January 2012. The Forest Service received over 25,000 comments on the DEIS. We are currently waiting to see whether the Forest Service will release a Supplemental EIS, or the Final EIS and Record of Decision. This will also be a Public Comment Opportunity!
Let the Forest Service know your concerns about this project! Go to our Action page for more information, and our Impacts page for what’s at stake.