A lone jaguar has been popping up in images from remote cameras in Arizona’s Santa Rita Mountains — the first confirmed spotting of these great cats in the Southwest since the jaguar known as Macho B was killed in 2009.
That means there’s hope for jaguars’ return to the United States, and a new federal proposal seeks to protect key jaguar habitat in southern Arizona and New Mexico to make it possible. But the plan doesn’t go far enough.
Jaguars once roamed much of the Southwest — as far north as the Mogollon Rim near the Grand Canyon and west to include all of the Gila National Forest in New Mexico. The agency’s current proposal, however, limits critical habitat to portions of southern Arizona and a tiny area of New Mexico — all south of I-10.
Thankfully the proposal does include at-risk land that is targeted for a huge open-pit copper mine in the Santa Rita’s. But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should expand the critical habitat to include the rugged Gila National Forest in New Mexico and pine-clad Mogollon Rim of Arizona — where the last female jaguar seen in the United States was shot 50 years ago. With abundant prey and cover, these areas are the best U.S. habitat for jaguars.