A jaguar has been seen in five different locations in Arizona a total of seven times, and it has been photographed three of the times. This is spectacular news, right? Potentially, it means that a species that was past the brink of extinction in the state is making a comeback. Instead, it’s turned into the case of the Arizona jaguar versus the copper mine.
Like many such instances of endangered and/or potentially extinct species making themselves known once again by their persistent and sometimes annoying efforts to stay alive, the existence of the Arizona jaguar has become a battle of environmentalists against Big Business,”progress,” and the All Mighty Dollar.
According to images obtained the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the rare jaguar has been spotted on camera over the last nine months in Arizona’s Santa Rita Mountains. The pictures, reports the Arizona Daily Star, were taken by stationary cameras affixed to different points in the area.
In some of the photographs, the male jaguar was very close to the proposed mine site at Rosemont, southeast of Tucson, Arizona. The jaguar was first spotted by a citizen who captured a photograph of its tail last September. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as a result, utilized the University of Arizona’s cameras to follow up on the claim.
The jaguar was spotted near the area the photo was originally taken, and other photos showed that the jaguar moved around 15 miles from the mine site. The photographs were all taken at night. They were obtained by the Arizona Daily Star as a result of a Freedom of Information Act request. Because the jaguar is an endangered species, it is afforded a higher level of protection. This protection could potentially affect the proposed mine.
Besides being under protection, the animal is the only jaguar currently known to live in the United States. In 2009, the last known jaguar living in the United States, which also resided in Arizona, died.
By August 20, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to make a decision on whether the land the jaguar is roaming will be designated as a critical habitat. If the land receives this designation, it’s unlikely that the mine would be able to open as scheduled.
However, there is even disagreement among environmentalists as to whether the area the jaguar is living in should be protected.
One point against the land’s being declare critical habitat for the jaguar is that, while it is the best area within the U.S. for a jaguar since the terrain is favorable and plenty of prey exists, the jaguar is a sole male jaguar, so it will not be reproducing or contributing to a growing population of jaguars.
Another reason some environmentalists argue against having the area called critical habitat for the jaguar is that the main habitat for jaguars is further south in Mexico.
The fate of the jaguar and the proposed copper mine could rest upon the report that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Forest Service are currently writing. It will analyze the potential effects of the proposed copper mine on the jaguar and nine other federally protected species.
The report will also purportedly include recommendations for how to ease the environmental impact of the mine, particularly in regard to protected and endangered species. It is a preliminary report, and is expected to be released sometime around July 1, after which county, state and federal agencies will have the opportunity to comment before a final report is released.
Will the jaguar or the copper mine win in the case of the jaguar versus the copper mine? By August 20, 2013, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Forest Service release its report as to whether or not the land the jaguar is roaming will be considered to be its critical habitat, the answer will be known.
Written by: Douglas Cobb