New Mexico judge revokes protected lands for jaguars

Conservation groups vow to fight the ruling to help the cats reclaim their historic habitat.


Pictured in 2013, the jaguar known as El Jefe frequents the Santa Rita Mountains in Arizona. Other critical jaguar habitat in New Mexico has lost protections.
University of Arizona and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

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Though male jaguars have been documented north of the U.S.-Mexico border in recent decades, no females have been recorded in their native U.S. range since 1963. The Southwest’s last jaguars are protected under the Endangered Species Act. In 2014, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated 765,000 acres of “critical habitat” in southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico, hoping to lure stressed cats northward and expand their range. Opponents called the protections “arbitrary and capricious.” (“The tenuous fate of the Southwest’s last jaguars,” 5/30/16).

For years, ranchers complained that the protected habitat contained privately owned agricultural areas and made it harder to get grazing permits and build infrastructure like corrals and fences. In late January, a federal judge ruled that New Mexico land would no longer be protected for jaguars. The Center of Biological Diversity responded in a statement: “We will ask the Biden administration to carefully re-designate the jaguar’s critical habitat so it can withstand the livestock industry’s cynical lawsuits.”

Paige Blankenbuehler is an associate editor for High Country News. She oversees coverage of the Southwest, Great Basin and the Borderlands from her home in Durango, Colorado. Email her at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor

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