Monday, December 5, 2011

Jaguar-cam study along border irks Brewer

Arizona Daily Star
December 5, 2011
By Tony Davis

A study of Southwestern jaguars paid for by the U.S. border protection agency has angered Gov. Jan Brewer and some conservative commentators.

On Brewer's public Facebook page, she called the new study, which will use remote cameras to look for endangered jaguars, a waste of taxpayers' money because it's being financed by the Department of Homeland Security. The department's money should be spent on border security, she wrote.

"Click 'like' if you agree with me and think this is outrageous!" Brewer posted shortly after an Arizona Daily Star article appeared on the study. "We need to secure our border."

But this research is justified because it will carry out an obligation set by Congress for federal agencies to protect endangered species that could be affected by their work, says the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The service is administering the study and will use information gained from it.

The DHS is paying $771,000 for University of Arizona researchers to put remote cameras in 120 sites - two cameras per site - from the Baboquivari Mountains in South-Central Arizona to the Animas Mountains in southwest New Mexico. The three-year study is to start early next year.

The study is part of a $6.8 million package of environmental projects the U.S. Interior Department will carry out over the next few years using Homeland Security money. The projects are intended to compensate for environmental damage done by illegal immigrants and border protection activities, including the border fence.

The remote camera study will help determine how many jaguars live in Arizona, if a resident jaguar population exists here, and how much of an impact the border fence, illegal immigrants and vehicles used to pursue immigrants have on the animal, UA researchers say.

There have been confirmed sightings of up to five jaguars in Arizona and New Mexico since 1996.

But since Brewer's posting a week ago, more than 19,000 people said they liked it or a follow-up post, and more than 1,700 commented on the two posts, most agreeing with her.

"I wonder what 'Homeland Security' has to do with tracking jaguars. Are jaguars tracking firearms or dope?" asked commenter Katie Koerbling.

"Absolutely ridiculous," commenter Faron Williamson wrote. "They can spend that much to track a cat but can't protect our borders or build proper fences?"

The website of the conservative magazine Town Hall also took aim at the study, with columnist Katie Pavlich saying, "Next time Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano tells us she doesn't have enough resources to secure the entire border, it's not that she doesn't have the resources; it's that she is spending them on extreme environmentalist projects courtesy of the taxpayer."

In response, the Fish and Wildlife Service's Steve Spangle said it's not uncommon for federal agencies to try to offset their impacts on threatened and endangered species with projects such as this one.

The jaguar has been listed as endangered in this country since 1997, and environmentalists have said this study is a long-overdue alternative to capturing a jaguar for research purposes.

Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act says that federal agencies shall use their authority for endangered species conservation, pointed out Spangle, field supervisor for the wildlife service's Arizona office.

"I respect the governor's opinion on the matter, but Congress has directed federal agencies to further conservation of listed species," Spangle said. "We commend the Department of Homeland Security for doing so."

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