Arizona and New Mexico offer less than one percent of total rangewide habitat for jaguars
The Arizona Game and Fish Department recently submitted comments to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on their proposal to designate critical habitat for jaguars in Arizona and New Mexico. The department is committed to the conservation of all of Arizona’s diverse wildlife species. Critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is a legal designation that must meet defined criteria within ESA and those criteria have not been met for jaguars.
Game and Fish has asked that the proposal be withdrawn because conservation of the species is entirely reliant on activities in the jaguar's primary habitat of Central and South America to be successful. Lands in Arizona and New Mexico make up less than one percent of the species' historic range and are not essential to the conservation of the species.
The Fish and Wildlife Service proposal considers jaguar occurrence from 1962 to 2011. All of the available information from that time frame and even decades before consistently indicates that Arizona does not provide habitat that is critical to jaguar conservation. Male jaguars from Mexico infrequently use southern Arizona as they roam. Females have not been confirmed in Arizona since 1962, and no breeding populations of jaguars exist now or ever have been documented in the U.S., even in historical times.
“The sanctity of the ESA is put at risk when litigious groups misuse legal terms to gain more control of wildlife conservation and public lands. Their maneuvers undermine the true intent of the act and jeopardize the public’s support for wildlife conservation,” said Director Larry Voyles of Game and Fish.
Arizona and New Mexico represent the northern most extent of the range for a population segment of jaguars centered approximately 140 miles south of the international border.
It was thought the species had completely disappeared from the state for many decades until 1996 when the first jaguar documented since 1986 was photographed by an Arizona houndsman. In the last half century, at most 12 different jaguars have been documented in Arizona or New Mexico.
The Fish and Wildlife Service proposal identifies six areas as proposed jaguar critical habitat in Arizona and New Mexico where jaguars already receive the full protection of the federal Endangered Species Act. The vast majority of the proposed critical habitat area is public land that is already under federal management jurisdiction or federally-approved conservation plans.
Game and Fish believes that the unwarranted designation of critical habitat for jaguars would likely result in denial of access to lands for jaguar conservation and research efforts; fewer observations of jaguars being reported; less timely sighting reports from people that do choose to report a jaguar; and, an increased likelihood of illegal activities which undermine endangered species conservation.
For more information on jaguars and to see a copy of the department’s full comments to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, visit www.azgfd.gov/jaguar.