The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) today announced it would not develop a recovery plan for a small population of jaguars threatened by a fence going up between the United States and Mexico. Scientists have urged FWS to create the plan, and environmentalists have sued as well. "The Bush Administration has issued a death sentence for the jaguar," Kieran Suckling, policy director of the Center for Biological Diversity, an advocacy group based in Tucson, Arizona, said in a statement.
Jaguars (Panthera onca) live as far south as Argentina. Although they used to roam the southern United States from Arizona to North Carolina, they were wiped out by hunting and habitat loss. The last known female was killed in Arizona in 1963. However, four males have been spotted in Arizona and New Mexico over the last 11 years. Jaguars are listed by FWS as endangered, but the agency--citing scarce resources and higher priorities--had not created a recovery plan, as required by the Endangered Species Act. Last June, the American Society of Mammalogists adopted a resolution that called for a plan. Two months later, the Center for Biological Diversity sued FWS.
In the new decision, FWS southwest regional director Benjamin Tuggle argues that the jaguar is exempt from recovery planning, because just 1% of its range is found in the United States. "We believe that preparation of a recovery plan for this largely international species will not promote its conservation," he wrote in memorandum approved by FWS Director H. Dale Hall on 7 January. Tuggle noted that FWS plans to keep monitoring the species, cooperate with Mexican officials and nongovernmental organizations, and fund research to help maintain the U.S. and Mexican populations.
Suckling speculates that FWS exempted the jaguar from recovery planning to obviate the lawsuit, as well as to ensure that the Department of Homeland Security can continue to build the border fence. Elizabeth Slown, an FWS spokesperson in Albuquerque, New Mexico, denied the charges, noting that FWS concluded late last year that the fence would not jeopardize the species, even though it could lead to the extinction of the U.S. population.