This week, PLF filed notice that we will be appealing the district court decision upholding the jaguar critical habitat rule, on behalf of the New Mexico Farm & Livestock Bureau, New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association, and New Mexico Federal Lands Council.
The designation of critical habitat for jaguar in New Mexico unnecessarily ties thousands of acres of land in red tape. The rule makes it harder for ranchers to get grazing permits, build corrals, stock ponds, or additional fences. The designation also increases fire risks in fire prone areas like Coronado National Forrest.
The problem with the designation of critical habitat in New Mexico is that the habitat is not critical to the species. Even the federal government admits that the United States is of only “marginal” value to the species, compared to the wet, tropical climates they prefer south of the border. Only a few jaguars have been identified in the United States, compared to the thousands spotted in Mexico. In fact, the nearest breeding jaguar population is 130 miles south of the United States, and the federal government does not expect that any breeding populations will ever migrate here.
Nevertheless, the U.S. District Court for New Mexico upheld the designation, because a panel of experts said that the Southwest United States could benefit the jaguar population’s genetic diversity, because some male jaguars have been known to roam there. The problem is that Congress explicitly limited the types of areas that could be tied up with the red tape that accompanies a critical habitat designation. This rule fails that requirement because New Mexico is not “essential” to conserving the jaguar.
On top of that, the federal government never bothered to figure out what is necessary to conserve the jaguar. How can the government decide what is essential to protecting a species when it refuses to make even a basic evaluation of what it will take to conserve the species?
We will be raising these questions in the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, asking the court to protect ranchers by holding the federal government accountable to the limits of the law.