The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has released a notice soliciting comments on a proposal to designate critical habitat for the jaguar in New Mexico and Arizona. The request appears to be based as much on legal threats by the Center for Biological Diversity to sue if they don’t get their way, as it is on science.

The Center for Biological Diversity has a history of gaining millions of our federal tax dollars through intimidation and litigation. In a High Country News Dec. 21, 2009, interview, Kieran Suckling, founder of the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), was quoted as saying:

“New injunctions, new species listings and new bad press take a terrible toll on agency morale... Psychological warfare is a very underappreciated aspect of environmental campaigning.

“The core talent of a successful environmental activist is not science and law. It’s campaigning instinct. That’s not only not taught in the universities, it’s discouraged.”

We are confident that the USFWS and U.S. Forest Service (USFS) will not be intimidated by a group that prides itself on bullying public agencies. We have seen firsthand how seriously the USFWS and the USFS take their mission to be good stewards and to develop reasoned, scientifically based assessments.

It is widely known that the few jaguar sightings in Southern Arizona in the last half-century or more have been males. Even the Center for Biological Diversity biologists would have to agree that a species with only sparse wandering males does not constitute a breeding population. Records show the last recorded sighting of a female jaguar in Arizona was in 1910.

As to potential impacts from the Rosemont Copper project, and any related activity for that matter, Section 7 Consultation under the National Environmental Policy Act involving the USFWS, USFS, and Rosemont Copper is underway and the jaguar is part of that review. This multi-agency process evaluates the facts, the data, and the record, to define conservation measures appropriate to the level of impact possible or anticipated.

The northern Santa Rita Mountains is an area that has been used for mining, ranching, recreation, and similar activities since the 1800s. The Rosemont Copper project site has been described and characterized throughout the Environmental Impact Statement as subject to heavy mechanized use with significant human presence. With or without the Rosemont project, this ongoing activity level is not going to make ideal conditions for the large cat, making the statements from the Center for Biological Diversity a wish rather than science.

The jaguar’s wide range extends from northern Mexico through Central America and much of South America. Therefore, it’s unclear how a fringe area on the northern periphery of the Santa Rita Mountains could possibly be considered essential to the species’ conservation and recovery especially when the area has a century of ongoing human use.

Our project will not adversely affect the ability of conservation organizations to conserve and recover this species. In the meantime, this question is being dealt with today within the existing National Environmental Policy Act process.

We are confident that thoughtful analysis will relegate the faux science and bullying tactics of the Center for Biological Diversity as activism, and that the agency will see that designation of critical habitat in other areas may be warranted for the conservation and recovery of the species, but not the northern Santa Rita Mountains.

James Sturgess is senior vice president of corporate development and government affairs for Rosemont Copper.