An environmental advocacy group wants the federal government to add millions of acres to a proposed habitat expansion program for endangered jaguars in Arizona and New Mexico. Arizona Public Radio's Gillian Ferris Kohl reports.
The Center for Biological Diversity told the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service the giant cats need far more than the 1,300 square miles the agency proposed in August. Michael Robinson is with the Center's New Mexico Agency. He says they've asked that critical habitat be extended beyond the proposed areas of Santa Cruz, Pima, Cochise and Hidalgo Counties to include the Gila National Forest and the Mogollon Rim.
"This is an area that could support far more jaguars and we need to increase their numbers if they're to step away from the brink of extinction and have a chance to be part of our world."
Robinson says the elusive cats were systematically killed off by the Fish and Wildlife Service from the early 1900's through the 1960's because livestock owners feared predation. The cats were thought to have gone extinct by 1990. In 1997, the jaguar was added to the federal endangered species list.
"Here we are fifteen years later and the Fish and Wildlife Service is finally proposing to protect a small sliver of the habitat jaguars need to recover. So there's really a pattern of too little, too late. But, we're determined to see that enough land is protected in the right places that jaguars have a real shot at recovery."
The current plan is being opposed by many livestock owners, including the New Mexico Cattle Association.