On Tuesday, January 12, the Obama administration announced its intention to designate critical habitat for the endangered jaguar. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which will also develop a recovery plan for the jaguar, will propose areas for critical habitat designation by January 2011. Both the critical habitat designation and the development of a recovery plan are mandated by the Endangered Species Act (ESA). However, these actions have long been delayed by previous administrations on the grounds that they simply are not practical given that the majority of the jaguar's habitat occurs outside of the U.S. Recently, however, a federal judge rejected these justifications and ruled that the Fish and Wildlife Service must reconsider the decision made under the Bush administration to not designate critical habitat.
Two weeks ago, the Sierra Club, along with a coalition of environmental groups, sent a letter to Secretary Salazar urging him to comply fully with the ESA. The evidence shows that, despite the presence of very few jaguars currently in the U.S., their historic range is enormous, stretching all the way east to Louisiana and north to the Grand Canyon. The American Society of Mammalogists also urged the Fish and Wildlife Service to designate habitat, concluding that jaguar habitat in the U.S. as "vital to the long-term resilience and survival of the species."
It is encouraging that the Service followed through on these recommendations and has taken a step that will help the jaguar and its habitat recover and adapt.