Ok, let’s first look at the story behind the story. Arizona is adding nearly a million people every six – yep, every 6 — years (based on US Census Bureau Population Division estimates). This means a jump from the current resident population of over 6.3 million to about 7.3 million by the time, for example, the next US president is midway through a second term.
Those Arizona counties where jaguars are currently most likely – namely, Pima, Santa Cruz, and Cochise — are currently increasing by about 20,000 people each year, representing about 12% of annual state growth (based on data from the US Census Bureau Population Estimate Program).
Without change as to how we treat the land, such population growth means that existing cities and towns will continue to balloon outward and merge with even more extensive exurban or “rural” sprawl.
This would destroy the habitat “linkages” or travel corridors that jaguars and other wildlife need for moving between key wildlife areas such as the national forests and other public lands.
PHOTO 1 – Land development threatens to sever a key movement corridor for jaguars between the Tumacacori/Atascosa Mountains and the Santa Rita Mountains (Santa Cruz County, AZ). (Wildlife Linkage Zone 93)
PHOTO 2 – Subdivisions spreading from Tucson along Interstate Highway 10. Such land development narrows and degrades the habitat “linkage area” between the Santa Rita Mountains/Whetstone Mountains and the Rincon Mountains (Linkage Zone 94).
PHOTO 3 – Land Subdivision occurring further from Tucson in the Davidson Canyon area (Pima County). A continuation of this pattern of development will destroy the habitat pathways needed for future movement of jaguars south to north as their numbers (hopefully) increase. Fortunately, the Cienega Creek Natural Preserve and Colossal Cave Mountain Park, under Pima County’s Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan, provides some protection for this wildlife movement corridor.
Human population growth also means more recreational activity and related development on public lands, or at least more pressure for authorities to allow such. For the jaguar and other wildlife, there are thresholds for human activity, beyond which the animals find it impossible to sustain themselves. Our public lands — national forests, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands, and state owned lands – comprise the primary or “core habitat areas” for wildlife including the jaguar.
With the overall US population increasing by about 2.7 million people per year (about the combined population equivalent of current Arizona, New Mexico, and New York every 10 years!), we can expect even further demand for exploitation of natural resources that, unless prevented, will be at the expense of our wildlife and natural environment. What will proposals for large-scale mining, more oil and gas development, power lines, energy production facilities, new highways, and even expanded agricultural areas mean for the jaguar? Well, you get the picture.
PHOTO 4 – This habitat linkage area between the Perilla Mountains and the larger habitat area of the Pedregosa-Chiricahua Mountains (Cochise County) is still mostly free of development, except for the number of dirt roads.
But…to the south of the area, a border fence from the town of Douglas east across the San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge would block jaguar travel from Mexico into the Perilla Mountains. Construction is expected to begin on the wildlife refuge in August or September.
PHOTO 5 – The Turkey Creek area west of the Chiricahua Mountains currently supports wildlife and ranching. Should subdivisions occur here both could be gone. The Coronado National Forest is to the right of the green line.