For Immediate Release, April 30, 2008
Silver City, N.M.— The Center for Biological Diversity filed suit today against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to compel development of a recovery plan and critical habitat for the endangered jaguar. The suit challenges a “finding,” signed by Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dale Hall, that a recovery plan would not promote the conservation of the jaguar.
The finding was signed January 7, 2008, four months after the Fish and Wildlife Service issued a biological opinion that served as a green light — by stating that there would be no jeopardy to the survival of the jaguar — for construction of a border wall that is now rising along the Arizona border with Sonora, Mexico in regions where jaguars roam.
Construction of the wall will end the ongoing jaguar recolonization of former habitats in the United States. Four male jaguars, identifiable by the individual pattern of their rosettes, have been photographed in the United States since 1996, including one photographed repeatedly in southern Arizona over the past 12 years. Other unconfirmed jaguars have also been reported.
Fish and Wildlife’s finding, which was not subject to public review, relies on regulatory loopholes allowing the Service to forgo development of recovery plans in extraordinary circumstances, such as when “the species’ historic and current ranges occur entirely under the jurisdiction of other countries.” However, both the jaguar’s historic U.S. range from California through the Carolinas and its current U.S. range in southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico disqualify it from this exemption.
“The American jaguar has been exterminated from all but a tiny sliver of its vast historic range in the United States,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity. “A recovery plan is a science-based document that would help the jaguar reclaim and eventually be secure in more of its native ecosystems.”
Robinson added: “We will not let the Bush administration, now walling off the border, doom the jaguar to extinction in its northern range.”
The finding directly contradicts the assessments of independent biologists that a science-based recovery plan is imperative for the jaguar. In September 2006, Dr. Brian Miller and Dr. Howard Quigley, both members of the interagency Jaguar Conservation Team’s Scientific Advisory Group, wrote the Fish and Wildlife Service to request appointment of a jaguar recovery team. The primary role of a recovery team is to craft a recovery plan.
Dr. Miller has studied wild jaguars in Jalisco, Mexico. Today Dr. Miller stated: “A recovery team and the recovery plan its members produce would reduce conflict because it would force people to consider evidence for an issue rather than rely on political beliefs. Science-based planning puts biological sideboards within which people can negotiate and solve problems.”
In June 2007, over 500 members of the American Society of Mammalogists met in Albuquerque and unanimously passed a resolution calling on the Fish and Wildlife Service to develop a recovery plan for the jaguar. The resolution concluded that “habitats for the jaguar in the United States, including Arizona and New Mexico, are vital to the long-term resilience and survival of the species, especially in response to ongoing climate change.”
In its finding, the Fish and Wildlife Service states that “the existing voluntary approach” of the Jaguar Conservation Team suffices instead of a recovery plan. In 1997 the team pledged to “coordinate protection of jaguar habitat,” but it has not done so, not even taking a stand against the ongoing construction of the border wall.
The Fish and Wildlife Service has developed international recovery plans for the Mexican gray wolf (1982) and the whooping crane (2007), among others, indicating the practicality of working across borders to recover endangered wildlife.
The Endangered Species Act is intended to recover species and conserve their ecosystems. The presence of jaguars in the Southwest contributed to the evolution of alertness in deer and the tendency of the pig-like javelina to travel in herds for protection. Because jaguars roam widely, protection for their habitat can also protect the habitats for many other species – an example of the link between conservation of species and their habitats that is contemplated in the Act.
The jaguar was listed as an endangered species south of the border in 1972 but was not afforded protection in the United States until July 1997, which only occurred as a result of a previous Center for Biological Diversity lawsuit against the Fish and Wildlife Service.
The jaguar is the largest New World cat. It historically occurred from the southern United States through Mexico and Central America to South America. In the United States it once roamed the southern states from Monterey Bay, California through the Appalachian Mountains. It was exterminated by the same federal predator extermination program that wiped out wolves in the western United States, along with persecution by the livestock industry and habitat loss.
The last female jaguar confirmed in the United States was shot by a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service predator control agent in the Apache National Forest (where Mexican gray wolves have since been reintroduced) in 1963.
When the jaguar was listed as an endangered species throughout its range in 1997, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was then required to develop a recovery plan and designate critical habitat for it.