South 32(S32) placed an advertisement in the November 2020 issue of the Patagonia Regional Times that carried the headline “You Ask. We Answer.” The ad began with the statement “The Ask. In the summer of 2019, a concerned citizen affiliated with a nonprofit conservation group asked us to share our wildlife survey data about Mexican spotted owl near the Hermosa Project.” I recognized myself as the person referred to in “The Ask” but I did not recognize much of what was written under the heading “How We Answered.”
I attended the July 24, 2019 Patagonia Town Council meeting to hear a presentation by S32 on water and wildlife impacts of the Hermosa Project. At that meeting, S32 President Pat Risner pledged to work with the town in a transparent way. His staff made a PowerPoint presentation describing various water and wildlife studies being conducted in the vicinity of the project site.
At the presentation, I asked if S32 would make its biodiversity data available to the town and to the public, and I also informed Mr. Risner that Dr. Barry Noon, a Wildlife Professor at Colorado State University, and one of the leading authorities on spotted owl demography, would be visiting Patagonia. I requested permission to have Dr. Noon and me meet with S32 technical staff and visit the Hermosa site. Mr. Risner stated publicly that South32 would make the data available and added he would be back to me about the site visit.
To this day, more than a year later, neither the town nor I have received the promised biodiversity data, but Mr. Risner did arrange a briefing on the Mexican spotted owl for Dr. Noon and me. At the briefing, a consultant from Westland Resources explained the survey methods used and provided highly redacted information on the locations of owls in the vicinity of the Hermosa site.
Prior to the meeting I had reviewed the publicly available data and nothing in the S32 briefing was new except very coarse scale information on which breeding sites were occupied by adult owls in 2016 and 2017, and a statement that there was no evidence of successful breeding since 2017, the year that industrial scale activities began on the site. The site visit was equally uninformative and “due to safety regulatory requirements for mandatory training” we were not allowed to walk around the site and could only see it from selected vantage points and in the company of mine personnel.
In the PRT ad and in the letter inviting Dr. Noon and myself to the briefing and tour, S32 made the false claim that they were only withholding sensitive information that the regulatory agency would not allow them to share. This is not the case and we have, in fact, gotten far more data from the agencies than we have gotten directly from S32.
S32 ends their PRT ad by stating, “We are happy to report that during our summer of 2020, a nest with a fledgling Mexican spotted owl was located within close proximity to our site.”
This is classic Orwellian doublespeak meant to tell the reader that the mine is not negatively impacting the owl population. S32 fails to tell you that no fledglings were found in 2017 through 2019, when industrial activity was at a peak, and were only found in the year of the pandemic when almost all industrial activity had been halted.
Of course, they also didn’t tell the reader – because they did not know – that we had found the nest and photographed two fledglings before they found it.