ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — An environmental advocacy group has proposed that federal officials set aside millions of acres in Arizona and New Mexico to aid efforts to save endangered jaguars.
Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity recently told the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that the endangered cats need more than the 1,300 square miles the agency proposed in August.
For the jaguar to be saved, the animal also needs a reintroduction program that includes the two states and is similar to one for Mexican gray wolves, he said. However, the reintroduction program was not part of the group's proposal to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The group asked for the critical habitat to be designated in parts of Gila National Forest and parts of Arizona.
"I think we have a chance to really affect the survival of the jaguar," Robinson said. He cited the habitat in the Gila and the federal Endangered Species Act as factors that allow the U.S. to help with any jaguar recovery effort.
Caren Cowan, executive director of the New Mexico Cattle Growers' Association, said the idea of setting aside millions of acres is "ridiculous" and there is no need to add land restrictions for an animal that can no longer survive in the region.
"There is no evidence that there have been any (jaguar) females in the region," Cowan said. "Besides, their habitat is Brazil. What part of the Gila National Forest resembles Brazil?"
In August, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a proposal for designating critical habitat that stemmed from a court order. The agency said it's also working on an economic analysis of the proposal and seeking public comment.
The proposed habitat would include parts of Pima, Santa Cruz and Cochise counties in Arizona, and New Mexico's Hidalgo County.
The proposal has drawn strong opposition from livestock owners who said any more restriction on land use would affect the economy and put more unnecessary burdens on owners already at odds over the Mexican gray wolves reintroduction program.
The largest cat native to the Western Hemisphere, the jaguar was placed on the federal endangered species list in 1997. It lives primarily in Mexico and Central and South America but is known to roam in southern Arizona and New Mexico. The only cat native to North America that roars, it was thought to have been eliminated in the U.S. by 1990 until two were spotted in 1996 in southern Arizona.
Last year, two male jaguar sightings in southern Arizona sparked excitement that the elusive cat was returning to the region after decades.
However, there is no documented breeding population in traditional ranges in Arizona and New Mexico.
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