Good News: US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) officials accepted our invitation for an on-the-ground “cat’s eye” view of what’s happening to habitat for the jaguar in southern Arizona. We surveyed eight habitat linkages during the two day trip (Dec. 2-3, 2010). Steve Spangle, USFWS field supervisor, Service biologists Wendy Brown and Erin Fernandez, and Dave Parsons, former Mexican wolf recovery coordinator, joined Tony Povilitis, JHC director.
After the trip, Tony Povilitis emailed Steve Spangle calling for a special Task Force to immediately begin protecting habitat important to the endangered jaguar and also Mexican wolf and ocelot. See his email below.
To: Steve Spangle
Cc: Wendy_Brown; Erin_Fernandez; Dave Parsons
Sent: Tue, December 14, 2010 1:14:03 PM
Subject: Task Force for Connectivity
I want to thank you, Erin Fernandez, and Wendy Brown of the regional USFWS office for joining Dave Parsons and me on the field survey of habitat linkages for jaguar and other wildlife in southeastern Arizona, December 2-3. Among the more salient observations were the limited acreage of undeveloped terrain remaining between certain mountain ranges (e.g. Tumacacori Highlands-Santa Rita Mountains) and the continuing conservation challenges posed by highways (e.g. construction of the new Marsh Station Road interchange along the Cienega drainage at Interstate-10). The vulnerability of habitat to further development absent conservation planning was evident throughout the trip. Subsequent to our survey, I found that 60,000 acres of topographically diverse grasslands are up for sale in the swath of remaining open country we viewed in Sulphur Springs Valley between the Chiricahua and Dragoon mountain ranges.
The concern I expressed to your agency about fragmentation of habitat for jaguar in Arizona and New Mexico dates back to the jaguar listing petition that my students and I submitted to USFWS in 1992 and a subsequent critical habitat request in 1999. More recently, in Conservation Biology (2006) and elsewhere, Dave, I, and others have emphasized the need for landscape-level conservation in the Sky Island region for recovery of Mexican gray wolf as well as jaguar. Linkages for wild carnivores have since been identified, with some evaluated in full detail (e.g., by Paul Beier at Northern Arizona University ).
From the discussions we had during our field trip, I sensed agreement that connectivity conservation for wide ranging endangered wildlife should be a priority. I want to again urge that, under USFWS leadership, a specific task force be created to quickly address the matter. I offer this suggestion in earnest given that 1) connectivity conservation is essential to jaguar, Mexican Wolf, and ocelot conservation, 2) USFWS recovery planning for jaguar, in its early stages, cannot be expected to yield on-the-ground habitat conservation anytime soon, 3) habitat fragmentation slowed during the current economic slowdown nevertheless continues and will accelerate with economic recovery, 4) key habitat linkages are at high risk of being irreversibly lost; and 5) past and ongoing approaches to species conservation have proven inadequate to protect landscape connectivity.
A Connectivity Conservation Task Force (CCTF) for endangered wild carnivores of the Southwest would consist of biologists and land conservation managers and planners from federal and state agencies, counties, academia, and the private sector. CCTF would identify and pursue opportunities for protecting linkages, help build agency and stakeholder support, and, in collaboration with species recovery teams, maintain a connectivity conservation database to track results.
CCTF would provide a specific mechanism for achieving in a timely fashion and for a specific geographic area connectivity conservation for multiple endangered species. It would be also help achieve the broader goals of the Western Governors Association’s initiative on wildlife corridors, the Arizona Wildlife Linkages Workgroup, and the new Landscape Conservation Cooperatives of the U.S. Department of Interior. With USFWS approval and leadership, I am confident that CCTF could be up and running in a matter of months, and that funding can be found quickly to support its work.
Significant outcomes for conservation are usually achieved when a group of dedicated, well-focused individuals address an outstanding need or concern. I would be happy to assist you and others with USFWS in launching the proposed CCTF.
Tony Povilitis, Ph.D.
Connectivity Conservation Task Force (CCTF) for endangered carnivores of the Southwest
Description: A task force working to stem habitat fragmentation and secure connectivity at the landscape level for endangered carnivores of Arizona and New Mexico (jaguar, ocelot, Mexican wolf) through collaboration with relevant recovery teams, agencies, and stakeholders.
Purpose: To provide leadership with appropriate scientific, planning, and implementation expertise to expeditiously address conservation connectivity for endangered carnivore recovery.
A decision maker with the US Fish and Wildlife (FWS) linked to carnivore recovery teams
Connectivity conservation scientists