You just can't trust 'em...

Betrayed in the Bootheel

By Judy Keeler

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 to sue?

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?


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