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Environmentalists win review of 2 more plants near Rosemont

Federal officials said Wednesday they will review whether two plants near the proposed Rosemont Copper mine are threatened, the second time in as many weeks they have put species near the mine under review.

The action by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is in response to a petition by the Center for Biological Diversity over the beardless chinch weed and Bartram stonecrop. The center claims they are just two of several species of plants and animals threatened by the proposed mine southeast of Tucson.

“These two lovely plants are in danger of disappearing,” Tierra Curry, a biologist with the center, said in a press release. “These Arizona plants need all the help they can get because they’re in the path of destruction of the Rosemont mine.”

It’s not the first time the center has petitioned the government to evaluate plant and animal species near the mine. The center was behind the push to get the Fish and Wildlife Service to review the status of the Sonoran talussnail, which the government said in July it would do. The center is also seeking protection for the Coleman’s coralroot and Rosemont talussnail, among other species.

Rosemont Copper officials could not be reached for comment Wednesday. In a previous interview on the Sonoran talussnail, however, Rosemont’s Kathy Arnold called the center’s claims a “fabrication” and “overstatements.” Arnold, the company’s vice president for environmental and regulatory affairs, said then that it would be up to the government to determine the mine’s impact on the species, not the center.

Wednesday’s announcement will not have an immediate impact on the mine’s development while the government evaluates the two plants.

The plants would not be eligible for listing until after 2016, said Steve Spangle, a field supervisor for a Fish and Wildlife Service office in Arizona. That’s because of a backlog of cases from the 2011 settlement of a Center for Biological Diversity lawsuit over the status of 757 species nationwide, he said. Those cases get precedence over any new petitions.

“We do the initial look (at new petitions) to see if they need emergency listing,” Spangle said. “If not, we do the 90-day finding and then put them at the end of the line.”

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The two plants did not qualify for emergency listing, but the service will study the species further to determine if they should be listed as candidates for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Bartram stonecrop is typically found in mountainous regions in Cochise, Pima and Santa Cruz counties and one location in Mexico. The Fish and Wildlife Service said in its initial review that the primary threats to the plant include plant collection and a small population, although the agency will evaluate all potential threats to the species.

Beardless chinch weed is found in a variety of habitats in Cochise, Pima and Santa Cruz counties and in Sonora and Chihuahua, Mexico, although it has not been seen in Mexico since 1936. Primary threats to the plant include grazing and small populations.

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Alan Cressler/Center for Biological Diversity

The government said it will review the status of the Bartram stonecrop in Southeast Arizona to determine if it should be listed as a candidate for federal protection under the Endangered Species Act