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Daily Newscasts

AZ Big Cats Targeted in New Fed Rules

October 16, 2008

Tucson, AZ – Arizona's big cats, in danger of slinking into extinction in the United States, are facing a new challenge, with changes on the way for rules that manage the jaguar and other rare species. Administrative changes in the works for the Endangered Species Act (ESA) would no longer require federal agencies to check with wildlife agency biologists about how a proposed project, such as a road or mine, would affect an endangered species.

The changes have been promoted as a just a small tweak to the ESA, but wildlife advocates disagree. The new rule would allow federal agencies to "greenlight" projects without consulting with federal wildlife biologists.

Conservation ecologist Matt Clark with Defenders of Wildlife says such "self-policing" is inappropriate because the federal Department of Transportation and other agencies do not have the expertise to determine what the local impacts really would be on wildlife and habitat.

"Consultation is essential in order to identify and minimize impacts to species, such as the jaguar, from hard-rock mining, new road construction and other habitat disturbances."

Clark says jaguars are so close to extinction there's no room for mistakes if the animal is to reach recovery - the ultimate goal of the Endangered Species Act.

"Even though this cat is currently rare stateside, and there may only be a handful of jaguars, this animal historically ranged as far north as the south side of the Grand Canyon."

Proponents say the rule change would simply clarify definitions. A companion proposal, also opposed by wildlife advocates, would set limits on even official required consultation, in order to prevent the ESA from being used to address climate-change pollution and its effect on wildlife.

The regulation changes, which do not have to be approved by Congress, are expected to go on the books before the end of the year.

Deborah Smith/Kevin Clay, Public News Service - AZ