The Lawsuit the Cat Dragged In


Tired of the budget shenanigans in Santa Fe? Grab a copy of the October issue of Smithsonian magazine. The cover story explores the battle over the migration of the jaguar (Panthera onca) back into the United States.

Author Richard Grant profiles “El Jefe,” the “fourth documented male jaguar to make the border crossing in the last 20 years.” Hudbay Minerals “intends to build a gigantic open-pit copper mine” in the cat’s territory, and eco-leftists are … well, you can guess how they’re reacting.

Grant deserves credit for explaining that it was legal action by the Center for Biological Diversity that had the federal government designate six units of “critical habitat” for jaguars. But he fails to mention the lawsuit filed by the New Mexico Farm & Livestock Bureau, New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association, and New Mexico Federal Lands Council over the feds’ inclusion of New Mexico in the territory.

Last year, the three groups filed a complaint in U.S. District Court, claiming that the habitat designation subjects “private and public property to regulation which impairs Plaintiffs’ interests in fuel and fire risk reduction projects on forest lands, infrastructure projects, and development of range improvements.”

There is no evidence that any of the cats occupied Unit 5 (102,727 acres, in Arizona and New Mexico) or Unit 6 (7,714 acres, entirely in New Mexico) when the jaguar was listed as an endangered species, and thus, the parcels are “not essential for … conservation.” And as can be seen from the map above, the New Mexico “habitat” is far from El Jefe’s hunting grounds, in the Santa Rita Mountains in Arizona.

The outcome of the lawsuit remains anyone’s guess, but the compliant, written by attorneys from the Pacific Legal Foundation, makes a persuasive argument. Time will tell if jaguars re-occupy the Southwest in any significant way. But at this point, considering any portion of New Mexico “critical habitat” for the species appears to be another case of federal overreach.