Recent jaguar sightings have prompted the AZ Game and Fish department to designate 760,000 acres in and around the Santa Rita mountains southeast of Tucson as critical jaguar habitat. The areas affected by the designation are popular deer and javelina hunting areas and hunters immediately voiced their concerns as to how such a designation would affect hunting and other outdoor recreational activities, such as off road vehicle use.
AZ Game and Fish responded with the following statement:
“Notice to hunters regarding the recent designation of jaguar critical habitat
“The Arizona Game and Fish Department has been receiving inquiries from concerned hunters about the impact the recent designation of jaguar critical habitat in southern Arizona will have on hunting in the designated area. To help address these questions, the department has prepared the following information:
“On March 4, 2014, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared almost 760,000 acres in southern Arizona as critical habitat for the jaguar, a species that was listed as endangered in 1972. With this listing, jaguars have been afforded complete protection in the United States. This species is also listed as endangered in Mexico.
“To assess the potential impacts to hunting or other outdoor recreation activities like off-highway vehicle use, the department reviewed the new rule and concluded that hunting is unlikely to be affected. The federal rule that designates critical habitat status does not include any reference to restrictions on recreation opportunities including hunting.
“’One of the elements of the critical habitat rule is the need to maintain adequate prey base for jaguars with specific mention of deer and javelina. Game and Fish has already addressed this in its current management program for the area, so there is no direct impact to department activities, ‘says Jim deVos, the department’s assistant director of wildlife management. ‘In trying to understand the impact of the designation on outdoor recreationists, including hunters, it is important to remember that jaguars are already fully protected by both state and federal laws and the rule doesn’t add any restrictions to people that are legally licensed to hunt.’
“One of the stated purposes for designating critical habitat for jaguars was to ensure, to the extent possible, that movement corridors are maintained between the U.S. and Mexico where the closest jaguar population lives about 130 miles south of the international border. The designation points out that the number of jaguars in Arizona is very small with only six or seven different jaguars documented in the U.S. since 1982. However, maintaining habitat connectivity is important if the number of jaguars were to increase in Arizona.
“There are a few restrictions in the designated area, but they affect major actions such as development of high-traffic volume roads or similar large-scale projects, and not activities of individuals.”
While on its surface the designation will not have an immediate affect on hunting in these areas, SCI and other pro-hunting organizations will continue to follow developments on this story.