The Endangered Species Act of 1973 requires the development of plans to protect listed threatened or endangered species and their habitats. In fulfilling this mandate, the USFWS has designated millions of acres as “Critical Habitat” for a number of target species.
In my previous post I discussed the recent “USFWS Critical Habitat Designation for Frogs and Toads” which encompasses 3000 sq. miles in California. Such a designation sets in motion special requirements and/or restrictions on all sorts of traditional “multiple use” activities. “Mitigation strategies” must be developed and submitted for any activity that might negatively impact the target species.
In the case of the Frog/Toad designation, activities such as livestock grazing, timber management, water storage and diversion, and recreational activities, including fish stocking programs must be evaluated and steps taken to mitigate or REVERSE impacts. To date, hundreds of lakes and waterways in the Sierra Nevada range have been rendered “fishless” by National Park and CDFW biologists in order to protect frog habitat. [See my post on “trout eradication” projects here.]
In 2014, the USFWS designated six critical habitat units, as defined under the ESA, for the jaguar (Panthera onca). The total U.S. land area in the Jaguar Critical Habitat designation encompass approximately 309,263 hectares (764,207 acres) in Pima, Santa Cruz, and Cochise Counties, Arizona, and Hidalgo County, New Mexico (USFWS 2014).
According to the latest USFWS information released during the waning days of the Obama administration, “CONNECTIVITY with MEXICO” is a critical feature of the Jaguar Critical Habitat Designation:
There are seven primary constituent elements of critical habitat that make up the habitat features included in the physical and biological feature that meets the physiological, behavioral, and ecological needs of the species. This physical and biological feature, including these seven elements, is:
1) PROVIDE CONNECTIVITY WITH MEXICO;
2) Contain adequate levels of native prey species, including deer and javelina, as well as medium-sized prey such as coatis, skunks, raccoons, or jackrabbits;
3) Include surface water sources available within 20 km (12.4 mi) of each other;
4) Contain from greater than 1 to 50 percent canopy cover within Madrean evergreen woodland, generally recognized by a mixture of oak (Quercusspp.), juniper (Juniperus spp.), and pine (Pinus spp.) trees, on the landscape, or semidesert grassland vegetation communities, usually characterized by Pleuraphis mutica (tobosagrass) or Bouteloua eriopoda (black grama) along with other grasses;
5) Are characterized by intermediately, moderately, or highly rugged terrain;
6) Are below 2,000 meters (6,562 feet) in elevation; and
7) Are characterized by minimal to no human population density, no major roads, or no stable nighttime lighting over any 1-km2(0.4-mi2) area.
Wolves, grizzly bears, and now Jaguars, are the tip of the REWILDING spear in North America. Building a “large, physical barrier”, or wall, on the border with Mexico could be considered a direct violation of the ESA as well as several international treaties because it prevents “connectivity” with jaguar and wolf habitat in Mexico.
The construction of “Trump’s Wall” will not only face a tremendous battle in Congress, but also a landslide of lawsuits filed in FEDERAL court by a coalition of environmental groups that may tie up construction for decades.
The bottom line is this: If the Trump administration wants to build a “wall” on the border with Mexico, it will FIRST have to take steps to repeal, or rewrite the ESA. It will also have to get Congress to repeal the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) which allows environmental groups to recoup their legal expenses with taxpayer money.
For further background, click on this link to my 2012 article- REWILDING ARIZONA: 2012 Jaguar Recovery Plan
Sources for this article include: