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Summit County Citizens Voice, July 9, 2013

Biodiversity: Feds propose more jaguar critical habitat
By Summit Voice

Federal biologists have revised a critical habitat proposal for endangered jaguars in the southwest. The updated maps include areas in Arizona’s Santa Rita Mountains where a lone jaguar has been caught on camera several times in the past nine months.

Under the modified U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposal, released last week, a total of about 850,000 acres would be designated, including lands around a planned open-pit copper mine. Conservation advocates say the mine could interfere with the cats’ dispersal into North America. They hope the critical habitat designation will prevent approval of the mine.

Along with the updated habitat proposal, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also released a draft economic analysis and draft environmental assessment of the proposed designation.

The economic analysis is a crucial issue relating to the proposed mine, because if the benefits of excluding an area outweigh the benefits of designating it, the agency can exclude an area from critical habitat, unless the exclusions would result in the extinction of the species.

Documents related to the listing and critical habitat designation, as well as information on commenting, are online at this USFWS web page.

Federal biologists said the updated proposal more accurately reflects habitat essential to jaguars in northwestern Mexico, the source population for animals that have been wandering into the U.S. The revision reflects jaguar use of a wider range of vegetated areas and eliminates high elevations not utilized by jaguars.

“The fact that a jaguar, one of the most charismatic big cats in the world, is living right outside Tucson should be a source of pride for us and a situation we want to preserve,” said  Michael Robinson, with the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s important that the Fish and Wildlife Service take this step and protect the Santa Ritas and other mountain ranges that these animals need to recover in southern Arizona.”

The desert and woodlands habitat on the eastern flank of the Santa Ritas provides an essential corridor for jaguar dispersal from Mexico into historic habitat in the United States and provides abundant deer and javelina as a food source.

Remote cameras have captured the lone, male jaguar’s image repeatedly in the Coronado National Forest over the past nine months.

“If jaguars are to recover in the Southwest, at a minimum the areas that they themselves consider good habitat simply must be protected. Safeguarding this irreplaceable dispersal corridor could give this jaguar a chance to eventually start a family in Arizona,” said Robinson.

Comments on the new proposal are due Aug. 9.

Jaguars are the world’s third-largest cats, after tigers and lions, and the largest in the western hemisphere. They originally evolved in North America, later colonized Central and South America, and eventually were exterminated from the southern United States. Jaguars in the United States today are thought to emanate from Mexico, where their range has been shrinking as well.

Both the protection of the jaguar as an endangered species in 1997 and the proposal of critical habitat for it are due to lawsuits by the Center for Biological Diversity to enforce the Endangered Species Act; critical habitat is defined in the Act as the areas necessary for the conservation and recovery of endangered species.

This article originally appeared here.

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton