Arizona Fish and Game

Jaguar Listing and Habitat Designation Based on Junk Science

JaguarA Freedom of Information Act inquiry has revealed that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) decision to declare portions of Arizona and New Mexico as “Critical Habitat” for the jaguar has no basis in fact. USFWS based its decision on unsubstantiated anecdotal stories that did not meet the Endangered Species Act definition of minimum scientific standards. The inquiry also found possible collusion between an employee of the Arizona Fish and Game Department and the Center for Biological Diversity. The report of the inquiry was written by Biologist/Attorney Dennis Parker. Here is the press release:

 

“GROUPS CHARGE CORRUPTION, JUNK SCIENCE BEHIND EXPANDED JAGUAR PROTECTIONS IN ARIZONA & NEW MEXICO.”

In a recent letter to the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) the Southern Arizona Cattlemen’s Protective Association (SACPA), the Coalition of Arizona/New Mexico Counties, the Pima Natural Resources Conservation District (NRCD), the Whitewater Draw NRCD, and People for the West strongly urged the agency to reverse its decision that critical habitat is “prudent” for jaguars in Arizona and New Mexico. The letter shows that under the ESA, and based solely on the best science available, habitat “essential” to the jaguar’s existence does not exist in the United States. Furthermore, studies have proven that well managed livestock grazing poses no threat to jaguars or their habitat.

“The Department of Interior just announced a new policy favoring sound science over political misconduct,” said SACPA president Cindy Coping. “To honor their own policy the USFWS must reverse their unsound but politically fashionable decision that won’t help the jaguar and does threaten to destroy hundreds of rural jobs in two states.”

A Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) inquiry revealed that the agency’s decision relied heavily on a 2005 conference presentation that lacked supporting data and fails to meet the ESA definition of minimum scientific standards.

Another public records search revealed that an employee of the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AGFD) authorized a $999.99 payment to the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) to create a jaguar habitat model for New Mexico. The CBD’s model was a substitute for, and produced conclusions far different from, the sound scientific conclusions already published by the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. The CBD had a then recent history of publishing maliciously false information about endangered species and livestock grazing. That charge, proven in court, was already a matter of widespread public knowledge when the AGFD employee engaged the CBD to produce a substitute habitat model for New Mexico.

“The payment itself, one cent below the level we understand requires Commission approval, raises serious questions about the AGFD employee’s intentions,” Coping said. “These issues involve authority and abuse of such, improper bias, conflict of interest, and the unprecedented extraterritorial extension of AGFD authority over the State of New Mexico,” wrote Dennis Parker, the wildlife biologist/attorney who authored the comments.” These facts alone warrant suspension of any critical habitat designation for the jaguar in the United States until this serious situation is fully investigated and explained,” he added. At least two of the supposed “verified” jaguars mentioned in the Arizona habitat models were likely not naturally occurring, but rather, animals of foreign origin captured and imported into the United States for the purpose of “guaranteed” hunting. At least 9 such imported jaguars were introduced into New Mexico in 1972 and 1973 alone, including at least one female that escaped. Recent journal published studies from Brazil prove that both the range and numbers of jaguars expanded where domestic livestock were introduced, due to the more dependable prey base. In fact, Brazilian cattle ranches support the highest densities and numbers of jaguars found anywhere. Moreover, both the historic and the recent record of transient jaguar occurrences in the Southwest indicate that modern, highly controlled livestock grazing poses no threat to the few jaguars that sometimes wander across the Mexican border onto neighboring Arizona and New Mexico ranchlands.

All of the citizen organizations represented in the carefully documented letter sent to the USFWS care deeply about the management of landscapes in Arizona and New Mexico where ranching has been and continues to be the dominant land use keeping habitat largely intact and undeveloped for more than 300 years.

###

For more information, please contact Cindy Coping, SACPA president, at (303) 905-4041.

Read the full 15-page report here.

Some excerpts from the report:

“While one transient male jaguar, Macho B, did roam the borderlands of Arizona and Sonora for more than a decade until last year, his extensive travels prior to his death indicates he was having a difficult time surviving in this dry, rugged region. Moreover, his persistent presence in the borderlands was also artificially induced by the placement of female jaguar scent (in the form of scat of captive females in season) at camera locations on the United States side of the boundary with Mexico.”

“Finally, if Arizona and New Mexico actually qualified as critical habitat, or habitat “essential” to the existence of the jaguar as a species, then both common sense and objective science would necessarily demand that, at a minimum, female jaguars be shown to reside in those States. The facts conclusively show that they do not and that no female jaguar has been shown to occur in Arizona, even on a highly questionable and suspect basis, since 1963. The facts also reveal that no [wild] female jaguar has been verified to have occurred in New Mexico — ever.”

This is just one more example of why we should Repeal the Endangered Species Act.