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Judge to decide if jaguars need habitat protection in U.S.

Local group sues to force feds to designate habitat

An attorney for the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity told a federal judge Monday that the government must develop recovery programs for jaguars because “they are in need of protection now more than ever.”

John Buse said the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has ignored the need to designate critical habitat for jaguars, causing them to become nearly extinct in the U.S.

The center filed the lawsuit in 2007, aiming to force the federal government to designate habitat and develop a recovery plan, said Michael Robinson, a conservation advocate for the center who attended the hearing.

Last year, Fish & Wildlife declined to designate critical habitat in the U.S. because the main jaguar population is in Mexico.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Brett Grosko argued at Monday’s hearing that the species’ main population is in Mexico and South America and the U.S. is not critical to its survival.

He said the government has taken into consideration the lack of breeding observations and the lack of jaguars living in the U.S. and determined that there are not enough to “bring about the recovery.”

Grosko said the jaguar population north of the Mexico border is “transients not residents.”

Buse said that wasn’t true.

“There is a population of jaguars in the U.S. and, though small, it is not a transient population. They reside in southern Arizona and parts of New Mexico,” Buse said.

He said the best example of that is the recently euthanized Macho B, a jaguar that was first photographed in southern Arizona in 1996.

Macho B was captured Feb. 18 and released wearing a radio collar. He was recaptured March 2 and euthanized at the Phoenix Zoo after he was found to have severe kidney failure.

“Macho was the most photographed jaguar in the United States for the past 13 years,” Buse said. “Now that is a resident not a transient.”

Robinson said people care deeply about the fate of jaguars and the government is “ignoring the need to preserve them.”

“Jaguars have roamed our country for thousands of years,” Robinson said. “This is the American jaguar’s last stand.”

U.S. District Court Judge John M. Roll said he would make a decision on the case soon.

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