By Rachel K. Wentz
In March 2014, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service set aside just over 1,000 acres of land straddling the U.S. and Mexican border in an effort to bolster the rapidly dwindling numbers of jaguars. This beautiful spotted cat, who once roamed from Argentina in South America, all the way up to the Grand Canyon in Arizona, has now been practically wiped out in the United States. But that is irrelevant to the angry ranchers who believe providing room for the cats was "unlawful, arbitrary, and capricious."
A lawsuit was filed on May 20th in the U.S. District Court in Albuquerque, New Mexico Farm and Livestock Bureau, the New Mexico Cattle Growers' Association, and New Mexico Federal Lands Council, claiming the decision to set aside land for the jaguars placed unnecessary regulatory burdens on nearby landowners. The suit also claims that the provision actually violates the Endangered Species Act, because the land "was not occupied when the jaguar was listed as an endangered species, and is not essential for jaguar conservation."
The suit was filed by the Pacific Legal Foundation, a Sacramento-based firm. Tony Francois, the lead attorney, said in a statement, "Clearly, the government doesn't have the luxury of careless overreach when it comes to roping off property as critical habitat. But that's exactly what we see with the jaguar habitat designation in New Mexico."
At the time the land was granted, the jaguars had been listed as endangered for almost 20 years. And it had been over 50 years since any breeding females had been documented in the U.S.
But that hasn't deterred environmentalists from actively working to provide habitat in hopes of reestablishing the species to its original habitat.
"We're talking about a sliver of land here," says Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity. The sliver of land in question is characterized by desert scrub, mesquite grasslands, and oak woodlands. In other words, territory well-suited for the solitary cats.
Jaguars are the largest cats found in the Americas. Their beautiful tan coats are stamped with black spots and circles and they sport large heads that contain a powerful set of jaws. As top-level carnivores, they perform a vital role in keeping prey populations in check and are known to eat a broad range of animals, from deer, to crocodiles, to fish and frogs.
They live and hunt alone. Males require a range between 19 and 53 square miles, which might explain why they are seldom seen. Female ranges overlap with those of the males, who aggressively defend their turf from other intruding males. According to Defenders of Wildlife, there are only around 15,000 jaguars left in the wild.
But the fate of these majestic cats matters little to the ranchers. Their lawsuit is demanding a federal judge overturn the critical habitat designation. They are also demanding legal fees.