Santa Rita Mountains Saved for Now

Last week in the Sky Island region was momentous. Wednesday evening a federal district judge blocked construction of the Rosemont Mine, a proposed open-pit copper mine in the Santa Rita Mountains south of Tucson. With construction poised to begin on August 1st, the July 31 ruling was a dramatic last-minute reprieve for the plants and animals that call the Santa Ritas home.

SIA staff member Bryon at Aliso Spring in the Santa Rita Mountains.

I stood on my back porch Wednesday evening, restlessly awaiting news, breathing the smell of a monsoon shower, looking south to the Santa Rita Mountains, and contemplating what a special place they hold in my heart. We conducted our very first volunteer spring survey trip in the Santa Rita Mountains not far from the proposed mine site, a trip I had the honor and joy to lead. Wildlife tracking volunteers trained by Sky Island Alliance found a jaguar track while hiking in the Santa Rita Mountains not long before El Jefe was photographed living there.

Rain and snow that falls in the Santa Ritas provides pristine groundwater that recharges the aquifer under Tucson. And the spectacular skyline capped by Mt. Wrightson is an ever-present vista from my home in Tucson, a constant reminder that the Santa Ritas are still standing strong and bursting with life.


When the ruling finally came out, my house was filled with exhilarated shouting, a few spirited expletives, and tears of joy. The Federal District Judge ruled that the U.S. Forest Service analysis was “inherently flawed from the inception” and overturned the agency’s 2017 decision to approve the mine and its 2013 environmental impact statement. This means Hudbay cannot dump toxic mine tailings on public lands that are also the location of burial grounds, sacred sites, and traditional resource gathering areas for the Tohono O’odham Nation, Pascua Yaqui Tribe, and Hopi Tribe.

As news that the proposed mine was halted sank in, I began thinking of all the people and organizations that worked heroically for the past 12 years to stop this mine. And I thought of you!

Sky Island Alliance only succeeds in protecting pathways for wildlife and flowing water because of you, our donors, volunteers, advocates, partners, and activists. Your support allowed Sky Island Alliance scientists to play a leading role in developing the 1,000-page public comment letter that pointed out the many deficiencies in the Forest Service’s analysis and created the foundation for this legal victory.

Thanks to your support and your love for Sky Islands and the wildlife, springs and streams, and sacred places in the Santa Rita Mountains, they remain safe for now.

The battle to fight this mine has been a marathon relay race. The baton passed between organizations, local governments, and tribal governments as different strategies came into play.

I’m deeply grateful for the work of Save the Scenic Santa Ritas, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Tohono O’odham Nation, Pascua Yaqui Tribe, Hopi Tribe, the Arizona Mining Reform Coalition, the Sierra Club Grand Canyon Chapter, and Earthjustice. These organizations and Tribal governments now hold the baton strongly in their hands as they continue to litigate to keep the proposed mine from being constructed.

This is a tremendous victory for all of us who care about this irreplaceable Sky Island and  our quality of life and economic future. It is a momentous victory for the wildlife and water of these mountains and for indigenous people.

I’m taking a deep breath today, glad to look to the Santa Ritas with hope and renewed determination. Much work remains to be done. Please join me in continuing to raise your voice to stop this proposed mine, and take the time to actively support the organizations fighting on this final frontier in court.

To learn more about our work to protect and restore the diversity of life, lands and water in the Sky Islands visit our website, and stay up to date on the latest news about Rosemont Mine via our partners Save the Scenic Santa Ritas.

Today I say thank you to all of the strong, dedicated and talented people and organizations that have worked to stop this destructive mine, and to all of you, friends of Sky Island Alliance who have stood with us through this long struggle.

With deep gratitude,