It’s time for concerned citizens to let their opinions be heard yet again. A federal agency is in the process of gaining control of even more personal freedoms. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is currently seeking public input about its proposal to designate 838,232 acres in southern Arizona and southwest New Mexico as “critical jaguar habitat.”

 A question we should all be asking ourselves is how soon Greenlee County may end up also being designated as jaguar turf. We do, after all, have the Mexican gray wolf among us, whether we like it or not.

 If this seems like a complete reversal on the part of the federal wildlife agency, it is because some years ago, FWS declared these same border lands inappropriate for supporting breeding populations of jaguars. Another lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity and a hand-slap from a district court judge in Tucson caused the FWS to cower and cave, allowing politically motivated litigation to trump biological statistics.

 The fact that this reduces the agency’s credibility and weakens the Endangered Species Act doesn’t seem to faze the current crop of biologists within the agency.

 Those with access to a computer can search for the “Jaguar Critical Habitat Proposal” and read the 126-page document for themselves. Buried within the somewhat rambling explanation of why the service changed its collective mind about jaguar critical habitat within the United States are some tidbits of information forecasting future mischief that will almost assuredly accompany such designations.  

 And even though the period of public input seems a properly democratic gesture, one certainly gets a feeling from the document that this is already a done deal, no matter what private citizens might say.

 FWS states therein that it is willing “to improve or modify” (but not drop) its mandate to “accommodate public concerns”. Hmmm. . . sound familiar? It’s the same tired line that the Border Patrol trotted out to feed the public before putting a Forward Operating Base in an illogical spot south of Animas, N.M. Meanwhile, the Center for Biological Diversity waits in the wings for this toe-in-the-door to be accomplished before suing once again for a lot more land to be added to this designation. CBD’s personal map differs hugely from the current federal proposal.

 FWS tries to sugarcoat the restrictions on human activity should these lands come under its auspices — but the handwriting is on the wall. Whether it is road building, ranching, hound hunting, mineral exploration or extraction, border defense, or a host of other activities, some bureaucrat might soon be sitting at the helm of this ship of state making sure constraining Endangered Species Act regulations are enforced.  

 We have seen it before — give them an inch, they take a mile. And for what? In this case, as in so many instances concerning endangered species like Mexican gray wolves, rational reasoning and healthy biological skepticism are put aside in favor of emotional hand-wringing and loud, repetitive moral browbeating. It just doesn’t make sense. What a surprise.

 One of the chicken bones from the jaguar critical habitat proposal that really sticks in my craw concerns a prime point that the FWS tries — but fails — to base its expert opinion on. Its experts say they are doing this not just for the few wandering jaguars that occasionally make it north of our border with Mexico, but to “focus on the principal biological constituent elements…that are essential to the conservation of the species” as a whole.

 In other words, designating critical habitat in Arizona or New Mexico, according to FWS, is going to help preserve jaguars in Brazil or Venezuela or someplace else in their core territory. That’s a hard sell as far as I’m concerned and once again makes me discount as less than serious professional the authors of such persuasions.

 Another telling statement within this document puts forth the printed desire “to achieve a viable breeding jaguar population”. How to do that? Well, in yet another paragraph in the proposal the FWS mentions that it will be involved in “resource management…habitat acquisition and maintenance … live trapping and transplantation.” Yup.

 Just like the FWS’s plan to raise ocelots in Brazil and dump them in Arizona and New Mexico, FWS has now publicly stated that it is gearing up to follow all the legalities of the Endangered Species Act and attempt the “recovery” of an animal that doesn’t even like living here.

 And what an animal it is. Jaguars are the third largest cat in the world. Only tigers and African lions are larger. Up until a few months ago there was an Internet website called “Carnivora” that showed some eye-opening color photographs of human beings killed or horribly mauled by jaguars in Brazil. Anyone doing some serious web searching can still find a brief black and white film clip of a jaguar attacking Sasha Siemel, a man who used to hunt the cattle-killing cats for ranchers in the Matto Grosso.

 Siemel had his trusty spear with him and years of experience dealing with jaguars that were trying to kill him, so he survived the encounter. But the cat’s speed and determination to get to the man were impressive to watch, to say the least. If attacked by a jaguar, most people wouldn’t fare as well as Sasha.

 Back in the days when FWS was actually contemplating reintroducing grizzly bears (a species that really did live and breed here) to Arizona and New Mexico, one of the reasons why they backed off was because those bruins had a long history of killing or maiming humans. They were worried about lawsuits.

 Jaguar proponents, both private citizens and government (state and federal) biologists are quick to discount any danger to people from these big cats. Well, they haven’t done their homework and their idealistic views once again lack critical thought.

 Being killed by lightning, bees, or free roaming dogs is much more likely since we have never had a real population of jaguars to deal with, but to say that they aren’t a potential threat to human life or limb is to ignore history.

 Public comments (of limited wording, be brief and to the point) about the proposed critical jaguar habitat in the USA may be submitted to FWS until Oct. 19 via e-mail or regular postal service. The electronic address is: . Search out “FWS-R2-ES-2012-0042”, click on “Comment now!!” and type in your comment.

 For reular mai,l write to: Public Comment Processing, Attn: FWS-R2-ES-2012-0042, Division of Policy & Directives Mgnt. FWS, 4401 N. Fairjoy Drive, MS 2042-PDM, Arlington, VA 22203.

 Dexter Oliver is a lifelong fan of Sasha Siemel and a longtime correspondent with his widow, the late Edith B. Siemel. Oliver lives in Duncan. He is a freelance writer, wildlife consultant and a threatened and endangered species specialist.

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