comment on Cat Fight on the Border. Will homeland security concerns keep jaguars from returning to their native U.S. range? Maybe. p.9 October 15 2007 HCN Jeremy Voas.
The Jaguar is what is known as "charismatic megafauna" in conservation circles. This animal prowled the mountains overlooking Tucson less than 100 years ago, before it was exterminated by government predator control efforts. Today, its natural migration back into the Southwest is being hailed as a confirmation of improving ecosystems and attitudes. The network of wilderness preserves and conservation practices have begun to recreate the habitat these keystone species need. But they need more than land: they also need human understanding. Indeed, we would not even know about their return if not for the enlightened response of certain ranchers who chose to photograph, rather than shoot, these "illegal aliens".
The Border Patrol has also weighed in on the cat's fate, forging ahead and building a wall along the border without any kind of environmental impact research. The crisis of (human) migration across the border is dire and the idea of building a wall is understandably attractive, but many believe it will end up more effectively blocking wildlife migration than human.
Voas goes beyond merely reporting the facts in this article to unearth the complicated melange-a-trois politics between the conservationists, the ranchers, and the Border Patrol. If conservationists are going to save the Jaguar in the American Southwest, it may mean working, and yes, even accommodating, "multiple use". For example, most conservation organizations would like to expand wilderness areas, or develop other restrictions on land use such as Critical Habitat Designation (CHD) for the Jaguar. While these conservation "gold standards" are arguably best for the recovery of the Jaguar they may end up being "counterproductive by imposing limits on land usage, including grazing....[which would] enrage ranchers."
According to Emil McCain, a biologist for the Borderlands Jaguar Detection Project, "A CHD is going to do far more harm than good for habitat...It makes enemies of the people you need to rely on." Michael Robinson, of the local conservation group Center for Biological Diversity is undeterred: "Our stance on grazing is that it should not preclude the presence of any native species, that it should not pollute waterways, and it should not cost the public any money. If the livestock industry is going to step up and meet those standards, it's OK with us."
But making such demands risks offending the owners of the very land Jaguars need. This is the old paradox of the Endangered Species Act, a paradox that is especially relevant in the almost lawless borderlands: CHD might encourage ranchers to kill an endangered animal rather than report it and face more rigorous regulation of their land or grazing allotment.
A similar dilemma for conservationists concerns the Border Patrol (BP) and the wall: whether to work with the BP and suffer the slings and arrows of their outrageous ecosystem disruptions, or to takes arms against what seems to be a rising sea of misplaced government intervention and lose any hope of compromise. As it stands the BP are cooperating with conservationists by maintaining and sharing open records of Jaguar sightings. Their cameras may play an important role in the badly-needed work determining Jaguar migration routes.
Of course, conservation organizations like the Sky Island Alliance, while working with all concerned parties, are also pursuing their own independent monitoring program. As a graduate of their Wildlife Tracking program I have helped monitor charismatic megafauna throughout the Southwest, and remain hopeful that the Jaguar will bring the different human tribes together, rather than tear us apart...