A federal judge has ordered the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reverse its decision not to designate critical habitat and develop a recovery plan in the United States for the endangered jaguar.
The agency's refusal to provide a safe habitat and a recovery plan for the species made no sense, and we're glad U.S. District Judge John Roll recognized that.
Also on Tuesday, the State Game and Fish Department ordered a formal investigation into the trapping in February of a jaguar known as Macho B, who was euthanized two weeks later, the Star's Tony Davis reported.
A recovery plan for the jaguar was abandoned by The U.S. Department of Interior in January 2008, which said too few of the cats had been spotted to warrant it. Fish and Wildlife's regional director in Albuquerque had recommended that decision, saying "preparation of a recovery plan will not contribute to the conservation of the jaguar," according to the Associated Press.
Roll's decision was a victory for jaguars who may roam from Mexico into Southern Arizona, and for environmentalists. Defenders of Wildlife and the Center for Biological Diversity had sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for its refusal to provide habitat and a recovery plan to bring the species back from the endangered list.
Michael Robinson, a spokesman for the Center for Biological Diversity, told the Associated Press that "denying the jaguar protection because it is overly endangered is an oxymoron. That was the essence of the government's plan, that there are so few jaguars that they don't need a recovery plan. And the judge saw right through that."
The largest cats native to the Western hemisphere live primarily in Mexico and South America. But they're known to range into Southern Arizona.
Four individual U.S. jaguars have been sighted since 1996, two each in Southern Arizona and southwest New Mexico. No jaguars are known to live in these areas today.
But one who did was Macho B. He was snared in February in the oak woodlands of Southern Arizona by a research project that was tracking the movements of mountain lions and bears.
Macho B, who was 16 to 18 years old, was fitted with a radio collar and released. Researchers tracking his movements by satellite data noticed he appeared ill, recaptured him and took him the Phoenix Zoo, where he was euthanized the same day, March 2.
Some critics have charged that the big cat was put down too quickly. Two outside laboratories are studying tissue and their conclusions will be reviewed by Linda Munson, a specialist on large cats and a professor at the University of California-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.
The State Game and Fish Department ordered an investigation Monday after receiving what it said was new information about Macho B's capture, Davis reported.
In his ruling Tuesday, Roll said the federal agency did not use the best scientific evidence available in deciding that critical habitat for the jaguar was "not prudent."
He also cited inconsistency with the Endangered Species Act's statutory mandate and Fish and Wildlife regulations in striking down the agency's decision, according to the AP.
Roll ordered Fish and Wildlife to review his ruling and make a decision by Jan. 8 — that's in nine months — on designating critical habitat and preparing a recovery plan.
Fish and Wildlife argued that no area in the U.S. was critical for the species' survival and that the area used by jaguars in the U.S. represented less than 1 percent of the jaguar's total range, according to AP.
That's debatable, of course. And protecting any area known to have been home to the jaguar, whether it's now believed to be in use or not, is the more prudent path.
Macho B was known to have crossed the border from Mexico into Southern Arizona for more than 12 years; he was first videotaped here in 1996.
The trapping and subsequent death of Macho B would not have occurred if researchers had respected his known range and chosen not to put traps in his path.
We hope Fish and Wildlife will come back to the judge with a plan that recognizes that jaguars do roam, and that protects the pathways they're likely to use in Southern Arizona.