Friday, February 26, 2010
Jaguars Must Have Recovery Plan
By Michael J. Robinson
Center for Biological Diversity
After many years of delay, a court ruling has established that the American jaguar will receive the legal and practical benefits of a recovery plan and critical habitat designation. The Endangered Species Act requires these measures to recover the jaguar and to conserve its ecosystems.
This decision follows the unanimous support of the American Society of Mammalogists, the world’s most prestigious scientific body studying mammals, at their 87th annual meeting which took place at the University of New Mexico in 2007. The society endorsed development of a recovery plan and designation of critical habitat, stating that “habitats for jaguars in the United States, including Arizona and New Mexico, are vital to the long-term resilience and survival of the species.”
Despite the jaguar’s popular image as a jungle icon, these spotted cats first evolved in the United States before colonizing Central and South America thousands of years ago. In historical times, they were reported in Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. Ancient and more recent Indian rock-art and traditional stories from the Southeast, Midwest, Southwest and the Pacific coast also evoke and describe jaguars.
Jaguars disappeared from the United States through clearing of forests, draining of wetlands and introduction of livestock, coupled with shooting, trapping and poisoning. The last known female jaguar north of the border with Mexico was shot by a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service sniper in 1963 in the Apache National Forest in Arizona — where Mexican gray wolves have since been reintroduced.
Almost always unobserved, tigres keep walking back across our border, sometimes apprehended in stirring trip-camera photos depicting robust, beautifully-patterned animals. This month, a newly identified jaguar, sex unknown, was photographed in Sonora just 30 miles south of Arizona.
The best known of those jaguars, Macho B, was euthanized in March after being caught in a snare set by the Arizona Game and Fish Department. The Interior Department reported last month that the snaring was “intentional” for jaguars and represented “criminal wrongdoing.”
Macho B’s untimely death was the final act for the Orwellianly-named “Jaguar Conservation Team,” some of whose principals may have been central to the still unfolding investigation into how this 13-year resident of southern Arizona ended up in an ultimately fatal snare.
Founded in 1997 by Arizona Game and Fish, the Jaguar Conservation Team was intended to demonstrate that a “stakeholder” model works better for wildlife than the traditional model of citizens and government adhering to the law — in this case the Endangered Species Act.
The heart of the team, officially comprising state, federal, and local government agencies, is the public lands livestock industry — the same industry for which the same set of government agencies had for many decades worked together to exterminate jaguars, wolves and other wildlife.
The conservation team opposed critical habitat designation, and for many years bent the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to its will by promising to voluntarily “coordinate protection of jaguar habitat.” But over the years the livestock industry successfully blocked habitat protection.
Though the team touted its “interagency cooperation,” the Department of Homeland Security rarely attended its meetings even as it constructed a jaguar-proof wall across much of the border. Jaguar reports often went uninvestigated.
The team also pledged to reduce “overutilization of jaguars for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes.” Yet other U.S. jaguars aside from Macho B are thought to be dead after being chased to Mexico by houndsmen.
Contrary to assertions, the state penalties for illegally killing a jaguar in New Mexico and Arizona are precisely the same as they have been for years; new laws that purportedly upgraded state penalties actually only apply if jaguars are removed from the federal endangered species list.
The Endangered Species Act provides the only real, on-the-ground protection for jaguars, and its record attests to even greater conservation effectiveness once critical habitat is designated. Species with their critical habitat protected have been shown to be twice as likely as those without to be making progress toward recovery. A recovery plan is a scientific road map to rescuing an endangered species and securing its long-term survival.
The Endangered Species Act can recover the jaguar and in so doing can help conserve the broader web of life. As the venerable American Society of Mammalogists put it, “ecosystems in the United States in which jaguars formerly occurred are not intact without the sustained presence of jaguars.”
Michael Robinson represents the Center for Biological Diversity in Silver City and is author of “Predatory Bureaucracy: The Extermination of Wolves and the Transformation of the West.”
Sunday, February 21, 2010
Lawsuits Don’t Help Animals
By Sue Krentz And Judy Keeler
Border Area Ranchers
On Feb. 18, 2009, biologists, conducting a cougar and bear study in southern Arizona, were excited when Macho B, a jaguar repeatedly photographed over a 13-year period, was found in one of their traps.
One of the highest research priorities of the Arizona/New Mexico Jaguar Conservation Team was to capture and radio-collar a jaguar wandering into the United States from Mexico in order to get detailed information on the animal’s habitat use and movement patterns.
Macho B, estimated to be about 15 years old, was fitted with a tracking collar and released back into the wild.
Biologists had to make the sad decision to euthanize the jaguar when, 10 days after his release, he began to show signs of weakening.
After his unfortunate demise, protests were staged, articles were written, and another lawsuit was filed by the Center for Biological Diversity.
Macho B’s death was a disappointment to everyone, but to say, in some media reports, the Team failed to include all stakeholders, failed to make progress on many of its goals, and failed to improve conservation of jaguars is disingenuous.
In an effort to involve all affected stakeholders, the Jaguar Conservation Team organized in March 1997. It was a revolutionary concept, meant to involve all interest groups, including the New Mexico and Arizona game and fish and state land departments; the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service, National Park Service and Fish and Wildlife Service. It also included several counties and an assortment of conservation organizations and ranchers.
When the jaguar was listed as endangered in the United States, little was known about jaguar biology, population trends, distribution, abundance, demographics or genetics.
The conservation team’s task was to develop a strategy to protect jaguars that might wander into the borderlands.
In October 1997, a voluntary Jaguar Scientific Advisory Group, consisting of wildlife biologists well known for their jaguar research, was enlisted to help provide the most current information and best available science.
After studying big cats for more than two decades, Alan Rabinowitz, a leading jaguar authority and an advisory group member, concluded there “was no area in the Southwestern United States that was critical for the survival of the jaguar … since the more open, dry habitats of the southwest are marginal for the jaguar in terms of water, cover and prey density.”
Most biologists agreed that, “if there had been a resident breeding population of jaguars in the U.S. in the recent past, it was probably a very small population, short-lived, and not viable.”
The conservation team learned the nearest core population of jaguars was at the confluence of three rivers in Mexico, about 135 miles south of Douglas, Ariz. The biologists believed this population was in imminent danger and struggling to survive.
In an effort to protect jaguars wandering into New Mexico and Arizona, legislation was passed in both states to comply with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ruling that the primary threat to jaguars in the United States was illegal killing. This legislation was supported by the state wildlife agencies and the ranching community.
In 2008, in an effort to protect jaguar habitat in Mexico, Fish and Wildlife provided a matching grant of $147,334.25 to the Northern Jaguar Project to purchase a 35,000-acre ranch in Mexico.
Regardless of these local efforts, a few radical conservation organizations seemed to have another agenda. It appeared their goal was to force critical habitat in the United States.
With the recent determination by Fish and Wildlife that critical habitat for jaguars is now prudent, the agency has no choice but appoint a federal recovery team, map “critical habitat” and develop a formal recovery plan which will include a regulatory framework that will force compliance upon the people who live and work in these areas.
No more hidden agendas! The plan behind the lawsuits, protests and media coverage is the Wildlands Network, a system of wildlife reserves with corridors running between.
The center’s lawsuits are not meant to protect jaguars, wolves, polar bears, bats or any other “endangered” species. These animals are just the surrogates to implement the “network.” The Endangered Species Act is their tool and the citizen’s lawsuit provision is the means by which radical “conservation” organizations will continue to hammer the economies of the small, rural communities that must live under their “rewilding” scheme.
The threats, extreme ultimatums and lawsuits do nothing to protect endangered species, or their habitat. The perpetual litigation benefits only a few radical organizations. It continues, however, to frustrate the small, rural communities that must live under their threats.
Sue Krentz and her husband Rob ranch in the Chiricahua Mountains in Southeast Arizona. Judy Keeler and her husband Murray ranch in the Peloncillo Mountains in Southwest New Mexico. Both were members of the Jaguar Conservation Team for 13 years.
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