For Immediate Release, August 17, 2015
Conservationists Intervene in Livestock Industry Challenge to Habitat Protections for Jaguar
SILVER CITY, N.M.— The Center for Biological Diversity and Defenders of Wildlife today intervened in a lawsuit brought by ranching organizations that are trying to overturn federal protection of habitat for endangered jaguars in New Mexico. The conservation groups are seeking to ensure that the designation of critical habitat for jaguars, on mostly public land in the Peloncillo and San Luis mountains of New Mexico, is maintained.
“Jaguars have lived in New Mexico for thousands of years,” said Michael Robinson of the Center. “Livestock industry intolerance led to their extermination, and now, instead of sharing the land, powerful ranching interests are trying to prevent the recovery of these beautiful animals, which help maintain the balance of nature. We can’t let that happen.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated 764,207 acres (1,194 square miles) of
critical habitat for jaguars under authority of the Endangered Species Act in March 2014 across six units: four entirely in Arizona, one that spans the Arizona/New Mexico line, and another — the smallest unit — entirely in New Mexico.
The New Mexico critical habitat at issue in the litigation makes up 51,400 acres in the Peloncillos (with an almost equivalent portion of this mountain range protected in Arizona) and 7,714 acres in the Sierra San Luis. The much larger Arizona critical habitat amounts to 705,093 acres, but is not at issue in this lawsuit.
The groups seeking to eliminate the critical habitat designation are the New Mexico Farm and Livestock Bureau, the New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association and the New Mexico Federal Lands Council.
“Jaguars were here long before people or cattle and we have an obligation to be good stewards of the land that both they and we depend on,” said Rob Peters, senior Southwest representative for Defenders of Wildlife. “There are tools and techniques available to help ranchers coexist with jaguars and other large predators. Cross-border habitat areas are essential to the survival of these imperiled cats and we must ensure that they remain protected.”
Jaguars were once widely distributed across much of the southwestern United States, but now just one jaguar in known to live in the country, in one of the areas protected for the species in Arizona. The New Mexico critical habitat is important as unobstructed travel corridors north into the United States, since both mountain ranges extend across the Mexico border, where no wall has been erected. On two occasions, 1996 and 2006, separate jaguars were brought to bay by the same outfitter’s hounds in, respectively, the Peloncillos and San Luis mountains; both were allowed to escape and ran south toward Mexico.
The Peloncillo Mountains are a rugged, brushy, north-south range remembered as the place where Apache warrior Geronimo surrendered to U.S. troops in 1886. The mountains serve as a natural travel corridor into the best habitat for jaguars in the United States — the well-watered Gila National Forest, which was not protected as critical habitat. The San Luis Mountains, at their northern extent, are a grassy, rolling range that serves as a corridor into the nearby Animas Mountains, also high-quality but unprotected jaguar habitat.
Peer-reviewed research shows that species with designated critical habitat are twice as likely to be making progress toward recovery as those without.
Jaguars are the third-largest cat in the world after tigers and lions. Paleontological remains show they evolved in North America before colonizing the jungle habitats of South America. They were historically reported on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, in the mountains of Southern California, along grassland rivers in northeastern New Mexico, and across Texas to Louisiana.
Jaguars disappeared from their U.S. range due to clearing of forests and draining of wetlands and killing to protect livestock. The last female jaguar in the United States was shot by a hunter in 1963 in Arizona’s Mogollon Rim (which is near New Mexico’s Gila National Forest). Although jaguars in Mexico are declining as well, dispersing male jaguars thought to emanate from the now-protected Northern Jaguar Reserve, 130 miles south of the border, have periodically established ranges in the United States. A jaguar has been repeatedly photographed in the Santa Rita Mountains in Arizona in recent years.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 900,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With more than 1.2 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit www.defenders.org and follow us on Twitter @DefendersNews.