What jaguar habitat?

Adventurer Sasha Siemel stands before the hide of a cattle-killing Brazilian jaguar, circa 1942. Contributing columnist Dexter K. Oliver questions why the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has designated more than a half-million acres in Arizona and New Mexico as critical habitat for the jaguar when the animal does not even exist in those designated areas.

Why did the jaguar want to cross the border into Arizona? To live fast, die before its time and make a beautiful corpse accessorized with a radio collar and ear tag.

Actually, the real joke is this: After ignoring a court-ordered deadline for 18 days, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) finally condescended to inform the public, for whom it supposedly works, about its decision involving “critical habitat essential for the preservation of the jaguar as a species.”

The agency’s final ruling is that, yes, 765,000 acres of land, most of which is in southern Arizona with a small section in southwest New Mexico, will magically become “critical habitat” for non-existent jaguars as of April 4, 2014. That is only a couple of weeks from now.

This action throws science out the window, the Endangered Species Act under the bus and opens the floodgates wide for lawsuits and counter-lawsuits. The specter of another dead “Macho B” jaguar looms ominously on the horizon. Many of the same “expert” big-cat biologists who supposedly influenced the FWS to reach this conclusion are still waiting in the wings to do more mischief, as well as squander taxpayer dollars while funding their own agendas.

But, of course, none of this future waste of time, energy and money (while other real wildlife actions go wanting) would have come about without the money-generating lawsuits by the Tucson-based “environmental” group, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD). The organization currently has 30 legal eagles on its staff, and they do like to keep busy.

First, they sued the FWS to pronounce the jaguar federally endangered within the United States of America (1997) despite having no breeding populations here. Then they sued the FWS to designate critical jaguar habitat (2006), but the agency proclaimed that action was “not beneficial to the species.” So the CBD lawyers dragged the FWS back into court and finally prevailed with its wants — for now. More lawsuits are sure to follow with even more demands.

Gutting the federal wildlife agency with “new science” views that routinely have nothing to do with facts has finally been accomplished. Reading the FWS ruling, its questions and answers on jaguars and critical habitat, and its defense of its own backtracking and waffling is an exercise in frustration. All trust and credibility has effectively been wiped out.

Here is just a small example from many among the weasel words and smokescreens. The FWS now emphatically states that it will not be reintroducing jaguars. But just last year, the agency stated in print that with critical habitat designation would also come “resource management . . . habitat acquisition and maintenance . . . live trapping and transplantation.”

Maybe it’ll start a jaguar breeding facility in Brazil next to the one it dreamt up for ocelots that are also destined to be dumped out in the Arizona and New Mexico deserts by the FWS.

Editor’s note: Dexter K. Oliver has done fieldwork with threatened and endangered species in the American Southwest, Mexico and Costa Rica for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the Arizona Game & Fish Department, the University of Arizona and the Caribbean Conservation Corps. He lives in Duncan.

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