For Immediate Release, February 29, 2008
Contact: Michael Robinson, (575) 534-0360
Bush Administration Refuses to Protect the Last American Jaguars,
Driving Conservation Group to Court
SILVER CITY, N.M.— The Center for Biological Diversity issued a 60-day notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today over the agency’s decision not to recover an endangered species native to the United States, the jaguar, in violation of the Endangered Species Act. The notice is required to allow the federal agency one last chance to comply with the law.
“Jaguars evolved in North America, and their recovery in our country is part of recovering our damaged ecosystems,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity. “They are beautiful animals that help keep the balance of nature, and preventing their extinction involves helping them reclaim the homelands from which our government exterminated them.”
On January 7, 2008, in response to an active Center for Biological Diversity lawsuit seeking a recovery plan and critical habitat for the jaguar, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director H. Dale Hall signed a “determination” that developing a recovery plan for the jaguar — as required by the Endangered Species Act — would not promote the conservation of the species. This decision effectively mooted a recovery-plan claim in an ongoing, two-part suit by the Center based on the fact that the government has unreasonably delayed recovery planning and protection of critical habitat. The “unreasonable delay” claim will shortly be replaced by a new lawsuit that specifically takes issue with the Bush administration’s decision not just to delay a recovery plan but to abandon its responsibility to recover the majestic, shy cat.
The government’s January decision awkwardly and inappropriately attempts to fit a narrow loophole in regulations under the Endangered Species Act that permit the agency not to develop a recovery plan for species whose “historic and current ranges occur entirely under the jurisdiction of other countries” (emphasis added).
Jaguars’ historic range in the United States has been extensively documented in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. Jaguar sightings and physical remains have also been reported in Colorado, Louisiana, Florida, Tennessee, and the Carolinas. In addition, American Indian artifacts depicting jaguars have been found in Alabama and Missouri. The jaguar’s current range comprises a small portion of southern Arizona and New Mexico.
In June 2007, more than 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.”
The Bush administration decision also claims that “actions taken within the United States are likely to benefit a small number of individual jaguars peripheral to the species, with little potential to affect recovery of the species as a whole” and that conservation plans outside the United States are adequate to recover the species.
“If this same logic had applied historically, there never would have been a recovery plan bringing gray wolves back to Yellowstone or the Gila wilderness,” said Robinson.
The rationale is also contradicted by the decision’s own admission that conservation plans outside the United States “have thus far fallen short in stemming the decline of the jaguar.” Directly undermining its own assertion that a recovery plan cannot facilitate conservation of an international species is the fact that the Fish and Wildlife Service issued an international recovery plan for the whooping crane in March 2007.
Robinson added: “If the United States can work across borders to develop an international recovery plan for the whooping crane, why can’t it do so for the jaguar? Could it be because the Bush administration is dead set on walling off the U.S.-Mexico border.”
Circumventing controversy over the ongoing construction, without environmental review, of walls along the U.S.-Mexico border — including an area where a jaguar has been confirmed living in the United States for over 10 years now — may also be behind the decision not to recover the species. Jaguar recolonization of the United States from Mexico will be short-circuited by the wall.
Through most of the twentieth century, the federal government poisoned, trapped, and pursued with hunting hounds jaguars in the United States, implementing a policy that all should be killed. The Fish and Wildlife Service killed the last female jaguar confirmed in the United States in 1963, in the Apache National Forest of Arizona. After the jaguar was listed as an endangered species outside the country under authority of the 1969 precursor to the current Endangered Species Act, due to unregulated hunting of thousands of jaguars every year, the Fish and Wildlife Service began issuing “hardship permits” to safari companies to allow their American clients to import jaguar pelts into the United States.
On July 25, 1979, the Fish and Wildlife Service published a Federal Register rule stating that through an “oversight” the jaguar was not listed as an endangered species in the United States when the list of foreign endangered species authorized under the precursor Act was used as a template in creation of the list authorized in the current Act. The agency pledged to “take action as quickly as possible” to list the jaguar domestically, but failed to follow through until the Center for Biological Diversity sued the agency in 1996 to compel action. As a result, the jaguar became an officially endangered species in the United States in July 1997. But the Fish and Wildlife Service failed to develop a recovery plan or designate critical habitat for the jaguar.
In June 1999, the Service authorized its sister agency, the Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services, to “take” (ie. kill or injure) a jaguar as long as the taking occurred inadvertently in the course of trying to kill other species of wildlife.