The U.S. Department of the Interior has abandoned attempts to craft a recovery plan for the endangered jaguar because too few of the rare cats have been spotted in the U.S. to warrant such action.
Some critics of the decision said Thursday the jaguar is being sacrificed for the government's new border fence, which is going up along many of the same areas where the cat has crossed into the United States from Mexico.
The jaguar's range extends from the southwestern United States into South America.
Hundreds of the cats have been documented in Mexico and across Central America. The most significant population in Mexico is believed to be about 150 miles (240 kilometers) south of the U.S. border.
If the U.S. border region were designated as a critical recovery area for the jaguar, then it would constrain the Homeland Security Department in building the fence, said Kieran Suckling, policy director of the Center for Biological Diversity.
"That's the central issue here," Suckling said.
(Read related story: "U.S. Immigration Law Could Harm Desert Animals, Critics Say" [March 31, 2006].)
Suckling's group has a lawsuit pending in U.S. District Court in Phoenix, Arizona, asking the court to force the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to develop a recovery plan.
Fish and Wildlife Director Dale Hall did not allude to the border fence when he quietly and with little notice signed a memorandum January 7 approving the decision to halt development of a jaguar recovery plan.
Suckling said his group learned of the decision only when a copy of the memo was filed in connection with the Phoenix court case.
The recovery of the jaguar, which has been under the protection of the Endangered Species Act since 1977, "depends on conservation efforts in Mexico and Central and South America," the memo says.
Only "a small fraction" of the jaguar population and available habitat is in the United States, and no breeding areas have been confirmed, it says.
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