Will an elusive cat evade federal listing?

  • Jaguar

    copyright Robin Silver Photography
 

When a southern Arizona rancher recently cornered a black-spotted beast the likes of which he'd never seen before, he shot it with his camera. Turns out he'd found a jaguar - the largest cat in the Western Hemisphere and an animal that's been seen north of the Mexican border only a handful of times in the last 25 years (HCN, 11/11/96).

The jaguar's presence has rekindled a long-standing debate over how to best protect the rare and elusive creatures. Many say a place on the endangered species list will provide the best protection. But two states are attempting to head off a listing with a newly crafted "conservation agreement" they hope will persuade local authorities, ranchers and landowners to protect the big cats.

The two approaches are headed for a collision. On April 1, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must decide whether the jaguar deserves protection under the act. The deadline results from a lawsuit brought last year by the Southwest Center for Biological Diversity.

No one disputes that the jaguar is imperiled. But "listing is not a panacea," says Terry Johnson, chief of endangered species programs for the Arizona Game and Fish Department. "One of the easiest things to do is invoke the big hammer of the Endangered Species Act and then walk away from it."

Arizona and New Mexico propose five years of monitoring and information-gathering by a "strictly voluntary" jaguar conservation team made up of government agencies and private landowners. The states' plan is popular with ranchers who fear that a listing would lead to land-use restrictions that could curtail their ability to control predators and graze cattle.

Critics say the conservation plan is a paper tiger. It suggests, but would not implement, for example, stiffer penalties for killing a jaguar. Under current laws, the fine is $750, while a jaguar pelt brings $6,000 to $12,000 on the black market, says Bruce Palmer, an ecologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Under the Endangered Species Act, the fine could be as high as $50,000 plus a year in jail.

Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Southwest Center for Biological Diversity, says the jaguar meets four out of five biological criteria for an endangered listing. The cat is already listed in Mexico, he notes, and federal officials acknowledge that only an oversight kept the species off the list back in 1979.

As for those concerned about the potential restrictions on their land if a jaguar were to move in, "We're not talking about critical habitat," Suckling said. "We're talking about listing the jaguar."

* Danielle Desruisseaux, HCN intern

High Country News Classifieds
  • COPPER STAIN: ASARCO'S LEGACY IN EL PASO
    Tales from scores of ex-employees unearth the human costs of an economy that runs on copper.
  • FEATURES DIRECTOR - HIGH COUNTRY NEWS
    High Country News, an award-winning news organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a Features Director to join our editorial...
  • GENERAL MANAGER
    The Board of UYWCD seeks a new GM to manage operations & to implement our robust strategic plan. Details at www.upperyampawater.com. EOE
  • IN TUCSON, FOR SALE: A BEAUTIFUL, CLASSIC MID-CENTURY MODERN HOME
    designed by architect David Swanson in 1966. Located a block from Saguaro National Forest, yet minutes to Downtown and the UofA campus, 3706 sqft, 6...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Friends of the San Juans is seeking a new leader guide our efforts to protect and restore the San Juan Islands and the Salish...
  • 80 ACRES
    straddles North Platte Fishery, Wyoming. Legal access 2 miles off 1-80. Call 720-440-7633.
  • IMPROVED LOT
    Private road, hillside, views. Well, pad, septic, 99 sq.ft. hut. Dryland permaculture orchard. Wildlife. San Diego--long growing season
  • UNIQUE INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITY
    Profitable off-the-grid business located 2 miles from Glacier National Park. Owner has 6 years operating experience. Seeking investor or partner for business expansion and enhancement....
  • REMOTE SITKA ALASKA FLOAT HOUSE VACATION RENTAL
    Vacation rental located in calm protected waters 8 miles from Sitka, AK via boat with opportunities to fish and view wildlife. Skiff rental also available.
  • EXPERT LAND STEWART
    Available for site conservator, property manager. View resume at http://skills.ojadigital.net.
  • CONSERVATIONIST? IRRIGABLE LAND?
    Stellar seed-saving NGO is available to serious partner. Package must include financial support. Details: http://seeds.ojaidigital.net.
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Colorado Plateau Natural & Human History Field Seminars. Lodge, river, hiking options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • WESTERN NATIVE SEED
    Specializing in native seeds and seed mixes for western states.
  • CHUCK BURR'S CULTUREQUAKE.COM BLOG
    Change will happen when we see a new way of living. Thinking to save the world.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • OJO CALIENTE COMMERCIAL VENTURE
    Outstanding location near the world famous Ojo Caliente Mineral Spring Resort. Classic adobe Mercantile complete w/living quarters, separate 6 unit B&B, metal building and spacious...