August 20, 2012

U.S. Fish And Wildlife Service Protecting North American Jaguars

Michael Harper for - Your Universe Online

Though they´re often thought of as tropical creatures, Jaguars once freely roamed the Southwestern United States. Now, thanks to some urging from activists and a petition, Jaguars will once more be free to roam the area in a protected habitat.

On Friday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a proposal to protect some 838,232 acres across southern Arizona and New Mexico for endangered Jaguars. This new proposed habitat is larger than the state of Rhode Island and will be considered a “critical habitat” for these endangered cats.

“Jaguars once roamed across the United States, from California to Louisiana, but have been virtually extinct here since the 1950s,” said Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity.

“(Friday´s) habitat proposal will ensure North America's largest cat returns to the wild mountains and deserts of the Southwest. Jaguars are a spectacular part of our natural heritage and belong to every American – just as surely as bald eagles, wolves and grizzly bears."

Suckling and the Center for Biological Diversity has been working for more than 20 years to bring back the North American Jaguar.

As a result of federal and state programs, these animals were hunted and driven away from the United States, much like the Grey Wolf. Recently, however, these animals have been slowly making their way back to the land where they once thrived.

Jaguars were listed as an endangered species in 1997, thanks to a petition from scientists and a law suit from the Center for Biological Diversity. 10 years later, the American Society of Mammologists called for the establishment of a new U.S. population of Jaguars, calling this expansion essential to the species long-term survival. Friday´s proposal comes after years of effort and a 2009 court order which required to Fish and Wildlife Service to prepare a recovery plan and designate a habitat for these endangered cats.

“You can´t protect endangered species without protecting the places they live,” said Suckling in a statement.

“Species with protected critical habitat recover twice as fast as those without it. This wild expanse of habitat is a huge boost to the return of jaguars to the American Southwest.”

Though these cats now have a protected environment, they may still run the risk of dangerous encounters with humans.

According to the Arizona Daily Star, part of the new, protected area is located in the Santa Rita Mountains, southeast of Tucson, Arizona. These mountains are also the location of the newly proposed Rosemont Mine, which is expected to employ over 400 workers. Once complete, the Rosemont Mine would be the fourth-largest copper mine in the United States.

The 4,400 acre mining project will be subject to an evaluation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, pending the approval of the proposed Jaguar habitat. When asked if the mine and habitat would be incompatible with one another, a spokesperson for the Service replied, “It can´t be determined at this time.”

A group of online activists have helped Suckling and the Center for Biological Diversity in getting this proposal approved, as more than 14,500 members of the online activists site signed a petition asking Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar and his Department to protect these Southwestern Cats. The proposal should be finalized within the year.