You just can't trust 'em...
Betrayed in the Bootheel
Betrayal is the only word that describes the atmosphere in the Jaguar
Conservation Team meeting held last week in Animas, New Mexico. After
meeting for over 6 years, and working in a good faith effort to develop
a plan to conserve any jaguars that might wander into Arizona or New
Mexico from Mexico, a lawsuit to establish critical habitat and develop
a recovery plan in the U.S. was filed by two organizations "participating"
in the planning efforts.
As the crowd of approximately 65 jaguar conservation team members
milled around greeting each other and discussing the weather, pockets
formed to discuss the latest news. Members were excited to hear Carlos
Lopez, jaguar researcher in Mexico, had been able to collar a female
jaguar about 150 miles south of the border. Collaring the female gave
team members hope they would soon have new information on the dispersal
patterns of jaguar from our sister nation, into the U.S.
When discussion turned to a recent lawsuit filed by the Center for
Biological Diversity and Defenders of Wildlife against the U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service, disappointment filled many faces. Feelings of
betrayal bubbled to the surface. Why had fellow participants chosen
The meeting was finally called to order by Bill Van Pelt, Arizona
Game and Fish Department. As he ran through the agenda, participants
sat quietly and listened for new updates. Very little had changed
since the last Team meeting, in January of 2003.
The big news came near the end of the meeting. At last, an opportunity
to comment on the suit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity
and Defenders of Wildlife against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service personnel explained that although
they were not able to discuss specifics of the case, they were in
full support of the Jaguar Conservation Team's effort and commended
the group for their accomplishments.
Several Team participants, including Warner Glenn, Judy Keeler and
Jack Childs, expressed their feelings of betrayal by the Center, and
especially by the Defenders. No one could understand the need to file
suit since a great deal of progress had been made to conserve the
species in the U.S.
Michael Robinson, Center for Biological Diversity, explained their
lawsuit was based on the Service's findings that it was "not
prudent" to establish critical habitat in the U.S. Holding the
Service's feet to the fire, as outlined in their lawsuit, the Center
is using the Service's own procedural requirements for implementing
the Endangered Species Act to sue the agency.
Scotty Johnson, Defenders of Wildlife, explained how the lawsuit
had to be filed by July 21, 2003. If, according to procedural requirements,
they had not filed by that date, they would have never been able to
pursue a suit in the future.
Michael Robinson also explained the Service's obligation to develop
a recovery plan, regardless of the Team's activities.
In an update of the Center's recent activities, via the internet,
the Center for Biological Diversity claims jaguar "once roamed
the hills of southern California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana,
and possibly as far west as Arkansas and as far north as southern
Colorado." The organization also contends the "U.S. population
was hunted down and killed by the livestock industry and government
predator control programs set up to subsidize the industry."
They also state that the Service failed to establish critical habitat
and "develop a recovery plan for the reintroduction of the species
into the borderlands of Arizona, New Mexico and Texas."
Not even the Scientific Advisory Group for the Team supports reintroduction
of the species into the U.S. One has to wonder how much science this
organization really relies on to support its claims.
Bill Van Pelt, in light of the recent lawsuit, asked the team to
consider two questions: Are we going to continue with the Jaguar Conservation
Strategy and Assessment? And, if we are, how shall we proceed?
If the Team were representing private industry, these questions would
be moot, since once a lawsuit is filed, interaction by participating
groups and individuals usually stops, while lawyers for each side
take over all further negotiations.
Since the signators of the Memorandum of Agreement consist of county,
state and federal agencies, one might guess the Team and the individual
participants, in an attempt to protect their interests, will continue
to attend, but will it still be a good faith effort?