N.M. Federal Lands News

by Frank DuBois

The Federal Land Council News

This month’s column is about jaguars, owls and chickens in the animal world… and skunks employed by the government.

Jaguars & Skunks

In my last column I referred to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service proposal to designate 838,232 acres in Arizona & New Mexico as critical habitat for the jaguar. Most of that is in Arizona, for now, and includes 103,143 acres of private land and all of the 7,590 acres in the San Luis Mountains, N.M. are private. The Center for Biological Diversity is pushing for millions of more acres to be included. In their submitted comments they recommend the critical habitat be expanded to the following areas in New Mexico:

  • The Animas and adjoining Pyramid mountains.
  • The Alama Hueco, Big Hatchet, Little Hatchet, Florida, West and East Potrillo, Cedar and Big Burro mountains
  • The Animas, Playa, Hachita and Mimbres River valleys and the Lordsburg Mesa; and in both states the Gila River Valley
  • The contiguous lands of the Gila National Forest along with the Plains of San Augustin, the Zuni Plateau, the El Malpais National Monument and National Conservation Area, and the San Mateo, Magdalena, Chupadera, Datil, Sawtooth, Luera and Summit mountains.

The comment period is over, so we all await the final decision by the Obama administration.

There is, however, a back story to the jaguar.

A long male jaguar dubbed Macho B came on the scene in 1996 when he was treed and photographed by a hunter, and became the mascot for the jaguar campaign. On February 18, 2009 Macho B was captured by a contractor with the Arizona Game & Fish Dept. The agency’s original story said this was an “inadvertent” capture, the aged feline had accidently stepped into a research snare set for lions and bears. The cat was collared and then released. Showing signs of capture trauma, Macho B was recaptured and eventually euthanized due to liver failure. One of the parties involved became a whistle blower and admitted the snare had been set on a favorite trail and baited with female jaguar scat. This caused quite a controversy at the time.

This month the Arizona Republic has published a series of investigative articles based on obtaining an Inspector General report and a criminal investigation by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife service. Here are some of their findings:

  • Agents for the Fish and Wildlife Service wrote in their crime report that the totality of evidence created “an argument that the Borderlands Jaguar Detection Project and Arizona Game and Fish Department collaborated and attempted to pursue the jaguar and ultimately captured it.”
  • Agents for the Fish and Wildlife agents wrote that Erin Fernandez, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employee in charge of the Borderlands Jaguar Detection Project had obstructed justice by concealing or destroying records, an offense punishable by up to 20 years in prison. The agents also reported her conduct constituted fraud and false statements punishable by a sentence of up to five years.
  • Five individuals were referred to the U.S. Attorney’s office for prosecution. Two were prosecuted – both from the private sector.
  • The primary contractor, Emil McCain was convicted of unlawfully taking an endangered species and says, “Simply put, I was set up”. The whistle-blower and McCain assistant, Janay Brun, negotiated a deal whereby charges were dismissed in return for an admission that she took part in an unauthorized capture of the jaguar.

Now get this. Those government employees who weren’t prosecuted are still doing fine, thank you. Fernandez is still the lead jaguar person for the feds and the rest are either employees of the Border Jaguar Detection Project or have government contracts to do research.

So if you want to deceive the public on wildlife issues, make sure you are a government employee, otherwise they will prosecute you.

But wait, all this may be for naught. The Brasilia Zoological Garden in partnership with the Brazilian government’s agricultural research agency, EMBRAPA, is starting a project to clone jaguars. EMBRAPA was responsible for the birth of the first cloned animal in Brazil, a calf named Vitória, who was born in 2001 and lived until 2011. After Vitória, many other animals have been cloned, mainly cows and horses who now add up to over 100 living specimens.

Wildlife advocates should be jumping for joy, right? Not the World Wildlife Fund. Their spokesman says, “Cloning is not a useful tool for conservation. This does nothing to focus on the threats to the species, which is frequently habitat loss.” It doesn’t matter how many of the jaguars you clone, they want to control that habitat, which means they are more interested in controlling land and water than saving any species.

Owls & Chickens

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife service has just released their $42 million recovery plan for the Mexican Spotted Owl. The plan covers 8 million acres in New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Colorado which have been designated as critical habitat for the owl.

In their recovery plan the feds have done a bad, bad thing. You see they identified hot-burning wildfires as the biggest threat to the owl. And oh, no, they are recommending thinning projects as part of the recovery plan. This sensible approach is not popular with the enviros. Headquartered in Santa Fe, the WildEarth Guardians say the whole thing is based on “fire hysteria”. No, the problem is the enviros suffer from “log” and “job” hysteria.

To help protect the lesser prairie chicken and assist in keeping it off the T&E list, the Bureau of Land Management has acquired an additional 1,789 acres in Chavez County and the Conservation Fund has purchased the grazing rights on 42,000 acres of federal land. The AP story on this says the grazing rights will be “retired”. I’m not sure how this can be done but will check it out.

After reviewing all these plans, designations and acquisitions I still have one important question: Do jaguars eat chickens and owls?

Macho may muncho all their great plans.

Till next time, be a nuisance to the devil and don’t forget to check that cinch.

Frank DuBois was the NM Secretary of Agriculture from 1988 to 2003, is the author of a blog: The Westerner (www.thewesterner.blogspot.com) and is the founder of The DuBois Rodeo Scholarship (www.nmsu.edu/~duboisrodeo).