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For Immediate Release, January 12, 2010

Contact:  Michael Robinson, (575) 534-0360

Endangered Jaguars to Receive Critical Habitat Protection and Plan for Recovery of U.S. Population

TUCSON, Ariz.— In a far-reaching reversal of Bush administration policy, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that it will designate critical habitat for endangered jaguars in the United States and develop a jaguar recovery plan. The Fish and Wildlife Service will propose specific areas for critical habitat designation in January 2011, according to a Federal Register announcement made public today.

“With critical habitat designation and a recovery plan, jaguars will have a chance to roam once again through the southwestern lands they’ve inhabited since time immemorial,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity, the organization whose three successive lawsuits since 2004 resulted in today’s decision.

Critical habitat designation will result in protection for large swaths of the Southwest, a region that jaguars used to call home but in which they’re now rarely found. A recovery plan for the jaguar will provide a road map for recovery of jaguars to the United States, whether through natural migration or reintroduction.

“The deserts, forests, and mountains of the United States provide important habitat for jaguars, but today’s decision may also help jaguars in Mexico and Central and South America through inspiring other nations to undertake similar conservation actions,” said Robinson.

Although both actions are clearly required by the Endangered Species Act, the Fish and Wildlife Service maintained for years that designation of critical habitat and development of a recovery plan were not practical because so much of the jaguar’s range occurs outside the United States. On March 30, 2009, a federal judge rejected both of these positions and ordered the Service to reconsider designation of critical habitat and development of a recovery plan, resulting in today’s decision.

The decision is a blow to the Arizona Game and Fish Department, which has long advocated for greater authority over jaguar management and against development of a recovery plan and designation of critical habitat.  

“With today’s decision, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is reasserting its authority over jaguar management,” said Robinson. “Given mismanagement of the jaguar by Arizona Game and Fish, including the death of Macho B, today’s decision is a welcome turn toward real, meaningful protection.”

On February 18, 2009, Arizona Game and Fish bungled a snaring operation that ostensibly targeted cougars and black bears but was reportedly baited with jaguar scat from a zoo, resulting in the death of Macho B, the last jaguar known in the United States. Rather than transparently investigate, the state agency quickly downplayed capture as a factor and ordered the jaguar skinned in lieu of conducting a comprehensive necropsy. Macho B’s death is currently the subject of a federal criminal investigation.

“A science-based recovery team is needed to ensure that jaguar research is conducted in a safe manner, and should be a necessary precursor to any further capture of jaguars,” said Robinson. “In other words, we support a complete ban on jaguar capture until there is oversight by a recovery team.”

Critical habitat could be designated across large portions of the species’ historic range, which includes portions of California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Louisiana. The American Society of Mammalogists described jaguar habitat in the United States as “vital to the long-term resilience and survival of the species,” and urged the Fish and Wildlife Service to develop a recovery plan and designate critical habitat for the jaguar. The Jaguar Conservation Team, an interagency group, identified millions of acres in Arizona and New Mexico that could provide habitat for jaguars. In designating critical habitat, Fish and Wildlife will consider all of this information.

“With threats like construction of the border wall and continued urban sprawl, habitat protection is absolutely essential to recovering the jaguar in the Southwest,” said Robinson.

The federal government is not allowed to destroy or adversely modify critical habitat, either directly or through issuing permits. Not surprisingly, species with critical habitat designated for them have been found to be twice as likely to be recovering as those without.

Jaguars, great orange felines with black rosettes, are the third largest cat in the world, after the tiger and the lion, and the largest in the western hemisphere.

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