February 23, 2010
New Jaguar Sighting Shows Value of Wilderness for Protecting
Sensitive Species’ Habitat in Arizona
Wilderness anniversary reminds today's lawmakers of conservation work that still remains.
This jaguar was photographed recently only 30 miles from the Arizona border.
Courtesy Sky Island Alliance, El Aribabi Ranch, Sonora, Mexico.
TUCSON—Photos of a jaguar roaming the wilds of northern Sonora, Mexico—only 30 miles south of Arizona—emphasize the need for landscape-level conservation of Arizona’s remaining wild lands. Wilderness designation protects valuable migration corridors for big predators, their prey, and hundreds of other species that move between the diverse ecosystems in Arizona and throughout the West.
Sky Island Alliance biologist Sergio Avila has spent the past three years documenting the diversity of species—including the jaguar—that is using the wild habitat and corridors of northern Mexico and southern Arizona. Partnering with ranchers across the border in Sonora, Avila has placed remote cameras to acquire a living record of wildlife activity most of us will never see—everything from black bear, mountain lions, and ocelots, to mule deer herds and playful coatis.
“Using noninvasive monitoring techniques like remote cameras, we document the presence and movement of animals across the landscape with minimal or no disturbance to the animals,” says Avila. “Documentation of sensitive species allows us to better inform conservation designations.”
The Sky Island Alliance project to identify wildlife presence and movement corridors is the first step of a conservation effort; the next step is protecting those areas so the wildlife continues to thrive.
“These animals show us where quality habitat is,” says Mike Quigley, wilderness campaign coordinator with Tucson-based Sky Island Alliance. “The next step is preserving that habitat for the future—and wilderness designation is the most effective tool for protecting public lands in the United States.”
Wilderness designation allows access for a broad range of human-powered recreation like hunting, camping, horseback riding, birding, and day hiking; it protects wildlife habitat by halting motorized use and the construction of roads. Arizona Game and Fish has identified the importance of maintaining unfragmented habitats as a critical component in the conservation of wildlife and wildlife habitat, as well as addressing existing and predicted global climate change.
“Because we face rapid, unplanned growth in Arizona, wilderness designation can connect critical lands that act as migration corridors for wildlife, so we aren’t isolating animals with arbitrary boundaries,” says Kate Mackay with Arizona Wilderness Coalition, which advocates for wilderness across the state. “Protecting high-quality habitat means keeping it roadless and as naturally quiet as possible—and there are still many places around Arizona that need the extra protection of the Wilderness Act.”
Wilderness designation occurs on federal public lands under the authority of the 1964 Wilderness Act, passed “in order to assure that an increasing population, accompanied by expanding settlement and growing mechanization, does not occupy and modify all areas within the United States.” Since 1964, the National Wilderness Preservation System has grown to include 756 areas totaling more than 109 million acres across 44 of the United States and in Puerto Rico. Arizona offers outdoor enthusiasts 90 different wilderness areas on U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), U.S. Fish and Wildlife, and National Park Service units. Each new wilderness area requires an act of Congress.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the 1990 Arizona Desert Wilderness Act, a monumental bipartisan feat of Republican Senator John McCain and his former colleagues Senator Barry Goldwater and Representative Morris Udall. The bill created 39 different wilderness areas around Arizona—the majority in western Maricopa County on BLM lands—to protect the unique ecosystems and wildlife of the Sonoran Desert. Many of these areas—Sierra Estrella Mountains, North Maricopa Mountains, Signal Mountain, and Woolsey Peak wilderness areas—and the wildlife found within them are facing isolation from rapid development, as metro Phoenix townships expand west and south.
“We have great examples of historic collaboration in Congress to protect Arizona’s diverse habitat and wildlife,” says Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ). “Mo Udall gave us a remarkable conservation legacy. It’s our job to use science and consensus-building to carry that torch forward.”
Representative Grijalva is currently working to secure wilderness protection for the Tumacacori Highlands—80,000+ acres of high-quality intact habitat on the Coronado National Forest—land that is important for the continuation of species such as the Chiricahua leopard frog, Peregrine falcon, and jaguar.
Kate Mackay, Communications Director, Arizona Wilderness Coalition, 602-571-2603
Northern Mexico Conservation Program Coordinator, Sky Island Alliance: (520) 624-7080 x 16
Mike Quigley, Wilderness Campaign Coordinator, Sky Island Alliance, (520) 624-7080, ext. 11
For additional photos of jaguars and other wildlife, visit http://www.skyislandalliance.org/jaguars.htm