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Natural Awakenings Tucson

Protection For Endangered Jaguars

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FSWS) has formally proposed to protect 838,232 acres as “critical habitat” for endangered jaguars in southern Arizona and New Mexico—an area larger than the state of Rhode Island. When finalized in the next year and joined with a developing federal recovery plan, the decision will ensure jaguars return to the wild mountains and deserts of the American Southwest.

The decision has been a long time coming. The agency listed the jaguar as an endangered species in 1997 following a lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity that ended protection delays stretching back to 1978. The beautiful cats have historically ranged all the way from Monterey Bay, in California, to Louisiana and north to the Grand Canyon and Colorado.

Refusing to allow federal bureaucrats for the first time in U.S. history to consign an endangered species to extinction in the United States, the Center for Biological Diversity won their case in 2009, and the FSWS was ordered to protect the jaguar’s habitat and create a plan to fully restore the species.

Like wolves and grizzly bears, jaguars were killed en masse by federal trappers and sharpshooters, paid to make the West safe for heavily subsidized public-land ranching. By the 1950s, jaguars were virtually extinct, but in recent years began to show the first signs of recolonizing Arizona and New Mexico. Individual animals from a Mexican population have been exploring the borderlands of the two states recently.

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