An additional 19,905 acres of protected habitat proposed for jaguars in southern Arizona and New Mexico includes areas in Arizona’s Santa Rita Mountains where a lone jaguar has been caught on camera several times in the past nine months. The modified U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposal would push to more than 850,000 the number of designated acres for jaguars, including areas in the vicinity of a planned open-pit copper mine. Under law, the protected “critical habitat” for the jaguar could not be harmed, which could rule out federal approval of the Rosemont Mine.
“The fact that a jaguar, one of the most charismatic big cats in the world, is living right outside Tucson should be a source of pride for us and a situation we want to preserve. It wouldn’t make any sense to allow a foreign company to permanently destroy the habitat of our country’s only known jaguar,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s important that the Fish and Wildlife Service take this step and protect the Santa Ritas and other mountain ranges that these animals need to recover in southern Arizona.”
The desert and woodlands habitat on the eastern flank of the Santa Ritas provides an essential corridor for jaguar dispersal from Mexico into historic habitat in the United States and provides abundant deer and javelina as a food source. But the Rosemont Mine would blast a 1.5-square-mile open pit, then dump toxic mining waste directly onto national forest land.
Remote cameras have captured the lone, male jaguar’s image repeatedly in the Coronado National Forest over the past nine months. Once the critical habitat is finalized, it will be illegal for the federal government to approve permits that would cause adverse modification of the species’ habitat.
“If jaguars are to recover in the Southwest, at a minimum the areas that they themselves consider good habitat simply must be protected. Safeguarding this irreplaceable dispersal corridor could give this jaguar a chance to eventually start a family in Arizona,” said Robinson.
The new federal proposal would designate a total of 858,137 acres (1,341 square miles) in Arizona and New Mexico as critical habitat for the jaguar. The acreage encompasses selected mountain ranges in southern Arizona but neglects important jaguar habitat further north.
Comments on the new proposal are due Aug. 9.
Jaguars are the world’s third-largest cats, after tigers and lions, and the largest in the western hemisphere. They originally evolved in North America, later colonized Central and South America, and eventually were exterminated from the southern United States. Jaguars in the United States today are thought to emanate from Mexico, where their range has been shrinking as well.
Both the protection of the jaguar as an endangered species in 1997 and the proposal of critical habitat for it are due to lawsuits by the Center for Biological Diversity to enforce the Endangered Species Act; critical habitat is defined in the Act as the areas necessary for the conservation and recovery of endangered species.