I know what you're thinking: "Wha? Jaguars in the U.S.?!" It's true: A small breeding population of about 120 jaguars lives on the porous desert border with Mexico in Arizona. But the same liquid boundary that sustains the extremely rare North American jaguar's hunting ground is also its biggest liability. Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff wants to put up a 470-mile fence smack in the middle of jaguar territory, which could keep it from returning to the Southwestern U.S. in earnest. Worse, Chertoff's waived 30 environmental laws to get the fence up post haste.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told Congress that the agency continues to talk to some 600 landowners along the border to get their input. But in order to comply with the congressional mandate, he said, there is no time to deal with "unnecessary delays caused by administrative processes or potential litigation."
"We are currently in a lawless situation at the border," says Chertoff. "I feel an urgency to get this tactical infrastructure in. And although we're going to be respectful of the environment, we're going to be expeditious."
Defenders of Wildlife and the Sierra Club have filed appeals with the U.S. Supreme Court in an effort to block Chertoff from blitzing up the fence before jaguar populations and other environmental factors can be assessed.
"National security and environmental protection do not have to be at odds with each other," says Defenders of Wildlife spokesman Matt Clark. "If we can drop this arbitrary deadline for constructing the fence and go through the proper procedures, then there are inevitably ways to minimize environmental impact, but as it is now it's throwing all of those laws out the window."
The jaguar was thought to be extirpated from the southwest until lifelong cougar hunter Warner Glenn cornered a jaguar near Douglas, Ariz. in 1996. He took the first photo of the big cat in decades. Now, he's become one of their biggest champions.
"It would be a loss to me that maybe my granddaughter or my daughter wouldn't be able to see one like I have. It's just an animal that's a beautiful, magnificent cat and they're having a little bit of trouble surviving. But they're doing it, and I would hate to see us do anything that would cause the survival of that cat to go backwards.
"I'm a livestock rancher, but I wouldn't mind donating a few calves to that jaguar, so to speak."
That's mighty progressive for a rancher, Warner — maybe an old cowboy can learn new tricks. If it can happen in Arizona, maybe it can even happen in Wyoming.
— Ted Alvarez