On Efforts to Recover the Southwest Jaguar
It’s the job of the US Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) to restore the nation’s endangered wildlife. So how well is it doing with the jaguar? In April 2010 we offered the Service a set of recommendations for bringing back the jaguar. The “Citizens’ Statement” was endorsed by nearly 1,000 individuals and organizations.
Here’s our report on each of the recommendations (the grading scale is A, excellent; B, good; C, fair; D, poor; and F, failing):
#1. Protect habitat linkages. Grade: D
We asked that the Service begin a comprehensive effort with counties, highway departments, public land managers, private landowners, conservation organizations, and others to ensure that “travel corridors” for the jaguar are protected.
In November 2010, Service officials in Arizona and New Mexico accepted a field trip invitation to inspect threatened habitat corridors in southern Arizona considered vital for the jaguar. Since then officials have collaborated with conference-call discussions on protecting habitat linkages for jaguar as well as the endangered Mexican wolf and ocelot. The exchange of ideas and information is proving useful, but no serious staff time or resources on the part of the Service are being devoted to the task. In FWS policy circles there’s been a lot of talk and proclamations about the need for what is called connectivity conservation, but these have yet to yield on-the-ground work to protect linkage habitat for jaguar and the other wild carnivores of the Southwest. For now we give the Service a “D” as opposed to a failing grade hoping that concerns and words may soon be followed by concrete conservation actions.
#2. Conserve our wild lands. Grade: D
We asked the Service to lead a concerted effort to protect the integrity of “core habitat areas” for the jaguar. Wild land areas as well as habitat linkages needed for jaguar recovery in the U.S. should receive special conservation attention by the Service as “critical habitat.”
There is still no overall plan to safeguard habitat for the jaguar in the Southwest (the jaguars was officially listed as an endangered species of the US in 1997). Yet threats to jaguar habitat are tremendous and growing, as noted elsewhere on this website. Threats range from urban sprawl and highway construction to proposals for extensive hardrock mining and power transmission networks. The Service needs to develop a comprehensive strategy for conserving jaguar habitat in collaboration with other agencies and the private sector. We are hopeful that the Service, which is now preparing a formal recovery plan for the jaguar, may do so. After more than a decade of delays, a proposal identifying critical jaguar habitat and measures to protect it is promised by spring 2012.
#3. Ensure that jaguars can roam freely between the US and Mexico. Grade: F
We recommended that the Service engage the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in recovery planning to limit barrier fencing and avoid construction sites and high intensity activities in areas that may be traversed by jaguars.
The Service has not been an effective advocate for reducing the harm to jaguars and other wildlife from US-Mexico fence barriers. Some might argue that it can’t stick its neck out politically on this one. But its parent agency, the US Department of Interior, could not even secure the tens of millions of dollars allocated by Congress to mitigate or compensate for harmful border impacts, as most of that money slipped away in the last appropriations bill. Those funds that were available were not used to allow jaguars and other wildlife to move freely through key habitat areas, or to purchase conservation lands or easements for jaguar near the border. Money available for jaguar in Arizona was earmarked to “survey and monitor jaguars and their habitat.” What upsidedown priorities! The Service should focus more on protecting habitat (before it’s gone) and less on more field studies (the easy route politically). In Texas at least, the Service requested about fence 100 openings for wildlife, and these, however small, were incorporated into the fence…But not in Arizona, home of America’s last wild jaguars.
#4. Pursue joint recovery efforts with Mexico. Grade: C
We encouraged the Service to propose an international conservation area for the borderlands that would protect the jaguar and other wildlife while enhancing relations and security between our two countries.
The Service has put together a Jaguar Recovery Team that includes biologists from Mexico as well as the U.S. The goal is to produce a binational recovery plan for the jaguar, a species long part of the deserts and mountains of both the southern U.S. and northern Mexico. We hope the plan will include recommendations for a bi-national park or biosphere reserve. Private efforts by the US-based Northern Jaguar Project and the Mexican conservation organization Naturalia have thus far lead the way with purchase of lands for a 45,000 acre Jaguar Reserve not far from the US border (with contributions from many sources, including the US Fish and Wildlife Service Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act). U.S. and Mexican wildlife agencies together should seize the opportunity to expand the vision and scope of this effort.
#5. Develop the option to rebuild jaguar numbers and range through reintroduction. Grade: None yet.
We asked the Service to fully consider reintroduction if natural migration of jaguars from Mexico, particularly females, appears unlikely in the foreseeable future.
We trust that this important option to help reestablish the jaguar in the U.S. will be fully and fairly evaluated in the forthcoming jaguar recovery plan.
#6. Act now. Grade: D
We called upon the Service to provide extraordinary leadership and move with utmost urgency in developing and implementing a jaguar recovery program.
The good news is that the Service now has recovery planning for the jaguar underway, albiet forced by a court decision in 2009.
But it remains to be seen whether the agency fully embraces the concept of restoring the jaguar to the US, and carries out with a sense of urgency necessary steps as outlined in the Citizens’ Statement.
OVERALL GRADE: D
There’s need for improvement!