The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has formally proposed to protect 838,232 acres as “critical habitat” for endangered jaguars in southern Arizona and New Mexico — an area larger than the state of Rhode Island. When finalized in the next year, and joined with a developing federal recovery plan, the decision will ensure jaguars return to the wild mountains and deserts of the American Southwest.
The agency listed the jaguar as an endangered species in 1997 following a lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity that ended protection delays stretching back to 1978, but refused to protect the jaguar’s habitat or develop a recovery plan! Instead it declared that jaguars should not be recovered in the United States — despite the fact that the beautiful cats historically ranged all the way from Monterey Bay, Calif., to Louisiana and north to the Grand Canyon and Colorado. Refusing to allow federal bureaucrats — for the first time in U.S. history — to consign an endangered species to extinction in the United States, the Center went back to court. In 2009 they won their case: The Fish and Wildlife Service was ordered to protect the jaguar’s habitat and create a plan to fully restore the species.
Like wolves and grizzly bears, jaguars were killed en masse by federal trappers and sharpshooters paid to make the West safe for public-land ranching. By the 1950s jaguars were virtually extinct, but in recent years began to show the first signs of recolonizing Arizona and New Mexico. Individual animals from a Mexican population have been exploring the borderlands of the two states recently. Macho B, the last jaguar to be seen, was killed in a botched capture in 2009 — the very year the Center won a court order requiring the species’ protection and recovery.
From a Center for Biological Diversity news release August 17, 2012.