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
  • GRAND CANYON DIRECTOR
    The Grand Canyon director, with the Grand Canyon manager, conservation director, and other staff, envisions, prioritizes, and implements strategies for the Grand Canyon Trust's work...
  • ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT
    Great Old Broads for Wilderness seeks a part-time Administrative Assistant to support the organization's general operations. This includes phone and email communications, office correspondence and...
  • HISTORIC LODGE AND RESTAURANT - FULLY EQUIPPED
    Built in 1901, The Crazy Mountain Inn has 11 guest rooms in a town-center building on 7 city lots (.58 acres). The inn and restaurant...
  • ONE WILL: THREE WIVES
    by Edith Tarbescu. "One Will: Three Wives" is packed with a large array of interesting suspects, all of whom could be a murderer ... a...
  • PROGRAM DIRECTOR, SALAZAR CENTER FOR NORTH AMERICAN CONSERVATION
    The Program Director will oversee the programmatic initiatives of The Salazar Center, working closely with the Center's Director and staff to engage the world's leading...
  • WILDEARTH GUARDIANS - WILD PLACES PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Salary Range: $70,000-$80,000. Location: Denver, CO, Portland, OR, Seattle, WA, Missoula, MT or potentially elsewhere for the right person. Application Review: on a rolling basis....
  • RIVER EDUCATOR/GUIDE + TRIP LEADER
    Position Description: Full-time seasonal positions (mid-March through October) Organizational Background: Colorado Canyons Association (CCA) is a 10 year old nonprofit organization fostering community stewardship of...
  • BOOKKEEPER/ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT
    Position Description: Part-time, year-round bookkeeping and administration position (12 - 16 hours/week) $16 - $18/hour DOE Organizational Background: Colorado Canyons Association (CCA) is a 10...
  • LAND STEWARD
    San Isabel Land Protection Trust seeks a full-time Land Steward to manage and oversee its conservation easement monitoring and stewardship program for 42,437 acres in...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Ventana Wilderness Alliance is seeking an experienced forward-facing public land conservation leader to serve as its Executive Director. The mission of the Ventana Wilderness Alliance...
  • COMMUNICATIONS AND DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    The Quivira Coalition (www.quiviracoaltion.org) is a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic, and social health through education,...
  • GRANT WRITER
    "We all love this place we call Montana. We believe that land and water and air are not ours to despoil, but ours to steward...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    The Development Director is responsible for organizing and launching a coherent set of development activities to build support for the Natural History Institute's programs and...
  • WILDLIFE PROJECT COORDINATOR
    Founded in 1936, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF or Federation) is America's largest and most trusted grassroots conservation organization with 53 state/territorial affiliates and more...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Cinnabar Foundation helps protect and conserve water, wildlife and wild lands in Montana and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem by supporting organizations and people who...
  • TRUSTEE AND PHILANTHROPY RELATIONS MANGER,
    Come experience Work You Can Believe In! The Nature Conservancy in Alaska is seeking a Trustee and Philanthropy Relations Manager. This position is critical to...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR AT FRIENDS OF CEDAR MESA
    -The Land, History, and People of the Bears Ears Region- The Bears Ears and Cedar Mesa region is one of the most beautiful, complex, diverse,...
  • CONSERVATION SPECIALIST
    Position will remain open until January 31, 2021 Join Our Team! The New Mexico Land Conservancy (NMLC) is a non-profit land trust organization dedicated to...
  • OLIVERBRANCH CONSULTING
    Non-Profit Management Professional specializing in Transitional Leadership, Strategic Collaborations, Communications and Grant Management/Writing.
  • GREAT VIEWS, SMALL FOOTPRINT
    Close to town but with a secluded feel, this eco-friendly home includes solar panels, a graywater reuse system, tankless hot water, solar tubes, and rainwater...