In a land of wild cats and scarce water, a battle over mining heats up – by Douglas Main (National Geographic – April 25, 2019)

The federally approved Rosemont copper mine could dry up a wet spot in Arizona rich with biodiversity, but faces precedent-setting lawsuits.

TUCSON, ARIZONAI’m perched on a ridge in the northern Santa Rita mountains, nearly 30 miles southeast of downtown Tucson. Rounded grassy hills speckled with mesquite rise to oak woodlands and rugged limestone peaks, and I can see for many miles in all directions.

The landscape is beautiful, but what’s most special doesn’t immediately announce itself. I am, for example, walking in the footsteps of the country’s rarest wild cats. In the gulch just to my southwest, a jaguar roamed during his three-year stay in the range, and an ocelot was recently spotted bounding through this spot.

To the east, miles in the distance, lays a broad valley, and within it a streak of dark green—the willows and cottonwoods of Cienega Creek, which flows all year.

This network of waters, at Las Cienegas National Conservation Area, provides a home to scarce animals including the Gila topminnow, a sparkly-silver, inch-long fish, and Gila chub, which are larger and more rotund. Yellow-billed cuckoos also roost here. These species, all endangered or threatened, thrive in this precious bit of desert water.

Above the valley loom the distant Whetstone mountains—where, until as recently as the 1870s, Apache warriors hid out between raids on ranches in the Cienega Valley; that era of bloodshed ended only when Geronimo and his renegades finally surrendered in 1886, forced onto reservations.

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