A new age of mining has dramatically expanded in recent years. Open pit, extensive, corporate, and multinational operations threaten the Mexican landscape. The prospect of ecological disasters looms across one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots.

This shadow is darkest in the Sonoran Desert. This is evident not just in the recent mining spill in the Bacanuchi, the Sonora, and the San Pedro Rivers – the worst environmental disaster in the history of the State of Sonora. The expansion of mining is also evident in the newly approved mining concession Los Cardones in the natural protected area of the Sierra de la Laguna in Baja California Sur. The new age of mining is evident across all of Northwest Mexico.

Mining as currently practiced and authorized under Mexican environmental regulations is changing the face of the land. The Sonoran Desert is often mischaracterized as a barren wasteland. Yet, this desert has an intimate relation with the Gulf of California – one of the most productive marine ecosystems in the world. It is the most diverse arid land in North America. More than 2000 species of plants, 1000 species of bees, and 450 species of vertebrates. This same region has enormous economic importance. The financial benefits of agriculture, 70% of the Mexican fishing industry, and ranching reach far beyond the regions arid boundaries that span the international border.

The deregulation of the mining sector in recent years has led to a dramatic increase in mining concessions. From 2000–2010, national and transnational mining corporations have been granted concessions to 56 million hectares (a quarter of the Mexican territory).

Article 6 of the Mexican mining law states: “…[mining activities] are given preference over any other use or benefit derived from the land…”. This doctrine has guided recent political decisions. Single handedly, this act puts the mining law above environmental protection, the rights of indigenous communities, agrarian villages, and workers. The very lands deemed a national and international priority are now in jeopardy. Actions supported under this mining law are a clear violation of the fundamental rights given in the Constitution.

The spill of 10 million gallons of copper sulfate, sulfuric acid, arsenic, heavy metals and possibly other contaminants from the Buenavista del Cobre mine, owned by Grupo México in Cananea, Sonora demonstrates the danger. Over 20,000 people were left without clean water, and lasting environmental impacts remain unknown. Abhorrently, this calamity continues. Given this legal framework, we can only expect the continued expansion of mining concessions, multiplying the chances that an event like that of Buenavista del Cobre be repeated.

In a climate of development at any cost, environmental impacts are the price of growth. Increasingly, environmental impact statements represent a mere formality and not the tool to guide regional development and avert social and or environmental disasters they were designed to prevent.

Next Generation Sonoran Desert Researchers (N-Gen) urges federal, state, and municipal governments to redesign the way that mining projects are developed. They must assess and incorporate socio-environmental risks and rigorously apply existing environmental laws.

A paradigm change is urgently needed to avoid environmental, economic, and humanitarian tragedies. Without environmental oversight the recent reforms that open Mexico’s oil reserves to private and foreign exploitation, and development projects approved at the margins of environmental law will continue to undermine Mexico’s natural heritage. Conservation needs to be an integral part of development. The toxic spill that has tainted the Río Sonora for decades to come reveals the absence of effective regulation. It highlights the false premise that we need to choose between human wellbeing and the environment.

Decisions need to prioritize the environment as they have development. A properly employed legal framework can allow for economic productivity and a healthy environment. To realize this vision the highest levels of research needs to be connected to environmental impact statements. This can balance environmental protection with local, regional, and global needs. At the same time, the application of justice, scrutiny, and/or serious revision of environmental laws as they concern the granting and monitoring of mining activities are sorely needed.

A vision of prosperity can emanate from a conservation ethic. Economic development initiatives can incorporate the natural wealth of the region. This premise can allow us to collectively pursue a prosperous future for our communities that matches the grandeur of the northern Mexican frontier.

Alberto Burquez Montijo

Nemer E.  Narchi, N-Gen associate director

Benjamin T. Wilder, N-Gen director

Please click here if you would like to sign this initiative to show your support.

Press coverage: http://nextgensd.com/mining-in-northwest-mexico-press/

How to cite: Burquez Montijo, A., N.E. Narchi, B.T. Wilder. Development at Any Cost: A False Premise. Next Generation Sonoran Desert Researchers, http://nextgensd.com/development-at-any-cost-a-false-premise/

Those who endorse this statement include:

Octavio Aburto-Oropeza, Scripps Institute of Oceanagraphy

Enriquena Bustamante

Angelina Martinez-Yrizar

Adrian Munguia-Vega, University of Arizona

Lucero Radonic, Michigan State University

Rodrigo Rentería-Valencia, University of Arizona

Jorge Torre, Comunidad y Biodiversidad (COBI)

Sula Vanderplank, Botanical Research Institute of Texas

José Said Gutiérrez Ortega, Chiba University, Japan

Ivone Giffard Mena, UABC

María Guadalupe Lugo Ibarra, UABC

Daniel Morales Romero

Charlie de la Rosa, UCLA

Brigitte Marazzi, Instituto de Botánica del Nordeste, Argentina

Adriana López-Villalobos Queen’s University, Ontario, Canada

Franklin Lane Biosphere2, University of Arizona

Bernard L. Fontana, Uof Ariz (retired)

Elisa Villalpando Canchola, INAH Sonora

Guadalupe Sanchez Miranda, UNAM

Don and Doris Wenig

Raechel Running, photographer

Karl W. Flessa, University of Arizona

Alejandro Varela-Romero, DICTUS Universidad de Sonora

Arturo Ramírez Valdez, Scripps-UCSD

Pedro Uriarte Garzón, ITLM

Hector Hans Munro Colosio, CONANP

Lasse Hoelck, FU- Berlin

John Carpenter Centro, INAH Sonora

Ricardo Félix

Yazmín Ramírez Rodríguez

Bárbara Larraín B.

Lucila Armenta

Yadira Sandoval

Zaro Olvera, UNAM

Jorge Heriberto Valdez Villavicencio, FAUNO, A.C.

Sarah Ratay, UCLA

Emelio Barjau Gonzales, UABCS

Eugenio Larios Cárdenas

Bárbara Peralta Zúñiga

Irma Cordova

Janos Wilder

Quentin Lewton, citizen

Roberto Herrera Trevino, UABC

Carlos E. Talavera Gameros

Biviana Avila Moreno

Catalina Eibenschutz H., UAM-X México

Horacio de la Cueva S, CICESE

Jesús Adrián Bojórquez Valdez, UNAM

Edmundo Rodriguez – UABC – FCM

Natalia Martínez Tagüeña, The University of Arizona

Claudia I. Camacho Benavides, Anima Mundi, A.C.

Pacifica Sommers, UA

Lloyd Findley, CIAD

Oscar R. Guzón Zatarain, Ecosistemas Costeros Sustentables A.C.

Erique Flores FCM-UABC

María del Consuelo Valle Espinosa, UABC

Sergio Ramos, Oceanologo UABC

Ángel José Martínez Salinas UAM-X

Jesús Echevarría Haro, Presidente CA de REBISLA, BCS

Gabriela Contreras Pérez UAM X

Aida Cortes Lemus

Sofía Gómez. Costasalvaje A. C.

Rosa Amelia Orona García

Daniel Alfaro UAM

Marco Antonio García, UAM-X

Araceli Mondragón, UAM Xochimilco

Arli De Luca

Abram Fleishman

Irene N. Talavera Martinez UAM-X

José Jiménez García, UNAM

Sergio Elías Uribe Sierra, UAM-X

Luz Vazquez-Moreno, CIAD, A.C.

Raquel Báez Durán SEC, Sonora

Saruhén Avila Moreno-Islas del Golfo

Natalia Rychert Slawinska – UNAM

Jancy Ivania Sanchez Corza, CONAFOR Baja California

Yue Li, University of Arizona

Jesús Ernesto Ogarrio UAM Xochimilco

Steven Bracker

Michael Bogan, UC Berkeley

Joel Bracamontes Ramirez UCOL

Nancy L. Orona UNISON

Mirsa Bojórquez

Dora O Waumann UABC

Martín Gómez García, Sierra de Manantlán

Luciano Grobet Vallarta

Natividdad Muñoz Cortez

Jesús Antonio Rojas Méndez , Profesor de asignatura Universidad Iberoamericana Puebla

Virginia Meléndez Ramírez

Carlos Germán Palafox Moyers Universidad de Sonora

Humberto Ruiz

Andrew Gottscho, SDSU

Cristina Trullà Trillas, ICS, Barcelona, Catalonia

Elsa Terminel Zaragoza, sociedad civil

Luis Fernando Vargas Gaytán, sociedad civil

Catalina A. Denman, El Colegio de Sonora

Fulvio Poumian, Itam

Rosalind Bresnahan, Ph.D. retired California State University

Lyn Loveless, College of Wooster