For Immediate Release, March 16, 2010
Contact: Michael Robinson, (575) 534-0360
Conservationists Propose 50-million-plus Acres as Jaguar Critical Habitat
SILVER CITY, N.M.— The Center for Biological Diversity Monday proposed designation of approximately 27 million acres in Arizona and 26 million acres in New Mexico as critical habitat for endangered jaguars. The Center suggested smaller areas in Southern California and West Texas as critical habitat as well.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will consider the science behind the Center’s proposal and other comments before issuing a proposed rule in January 2011 to designate jaguar critical habitat.
“This is a big swath of land to protect for an endangered animal,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity. “But jaguars roam over vast distances. They need their past and future homes protected if the northern jaguar population and eventually the species as a whole is to recover from the brink of extinction and become secure.”
The Center’s critical habitat proposal within Arizona and New Mexico is depicted in this map. The twin hearts of the proposal are the Sky Island ecosystem of southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico and the Gila headwaters and Mogollon Rim ecosystems of west-central New Mexico and east and central Arizona.
The Sky Islands is a region in which 27 mountain “islands” in Arizona and New Mexico rise from a desert “ocean.” Multiple jaguars have been recorded in recent years in the Sky Islands. One of them was the much-celebrated and now mourned “Macho B,” a jaguar photographed in the United States from 1996 until he was euthanized after being snared by the Arizona Game and Fish Department last March.
The Gila headwaters and Mogollon Rim areas may have supported breeding jaguars until the 1960s; the Fish and Wildlife Service shot the last-known female jaguar in the United States in this area in 1963. This mountainous region contains millions of roadless acres that are not separated by desert valleys.
The Center’s comments and map are based on a detailed review of several different models and maps assessing potential jaguar habitat in Arizona and New Mexico.
“The return of jaguars to their ancient habitats in the Southwest will help restore the balance of nature,” said Robinson. “Our ecosystems and other wildlife that evolved with jaguars can benefit from their homecoming, and in turn these big spotted cats need U.S. habitats to ensure their survival and recovery.”
Critical habitat, under the Endangered Species Act, is the area necessary for the recovery of endangered species – by definition a swath of land or water that supports more individuals of a species than if it were just intended to stabilize species on the brink of extinction.
The conservation effectiveness of critical habitat stems from the legal prohibition on the federal government destroying or harming critical habitat, either through its own actions (i.e. issuing timber sales or building a dam) or through its permitting responsibilities. Not surprisingly, endangered species with critical habitat have been found to be twice as likely as those without critical habitat to be trending toward recovery.
Jaguars were first placed on the endangered species list in the United States in 1997 as a result of Center for Biological Diversity advocacy; a court ruling last year in favor of the Center resulted in the Fish and Wildlife Service’s recent decision to designate critical habitat and develop a jaguar recovery plan.