After years of excuses and foot-dragging, and prodding from a federal court, the US Fish & Wildlife Service announced (Jan 10, 2010) that it would finally prepare a recovery plan and protect critical habitat for the jaguar. We were exuberant and have since geared up to promote a sound jaguar recovery program that the nation can be proud of.
Then, in March, a high ranking Fish & Wildlife official cast a shadow of doubt as he announced to the Associated Press that the Service is “going to concentrate on the fact that the jaguar barely occurs in the U.S. and so the amount of habitat that is truly critical to its recovery is going to be much smaller that it would be for a widespread species such as the spotted owl or lynx.”
The statement was remarkable because it signaled that the Service would focus on protecting habitat in a small area of most recent jaguar occurrence along the US-Mexico border rather than take a broader approach and also work to protect habitat in areas that once had jaguars and are needed for species recovery. The statement came before the Service had time to consider public and professional comments in support of a genuine recovery effort.
We immediately contacted Mr. Steve Spangle, Arizona supervisor for the Service, to see if his quote was accurate. Mr. Spangle confirmed that it was, but offered no clarification as to whether the Service intended to protect habitat adequate for a jaguar population or just for a few animals that would be confined to small borderland areas.
Jaguars were killed off and as a species disappeared from almost all of their former range in the U.S. Some have moved north in recent years from a small, struggling population in Sonora, Mexico. Protection of key habitat areas and connecting habitat linkages is needed to allow the jaguar to return home and rebuild its numbers. Then, together with conservation efforts in Mexico, a jaguar population could be restored.
Read the exchange of emails between Dr. Tony Povilitis of the Jaguar Habitat Campaign and Mr. Steve Spangle of the Fish & Wildlife Service.