I’m honestly not sure how I feel about this article: it’s either one of the silliest pieces of writing I’ve ever seen on endangered species issues, or a fiendishly clever way of roping ecologically apathetic adolescent d00dz into getting behind a conservation issue:
Usually, endangered species stories are lame. It’s some stupid owl or lizard or some other animal that nobody actually cares about.
Not this time. This time an animal actually worth caring about it [sic] getting some protected habitat. And if we’re really lucky it’s going to maul a few hikers.
The writer’s referring to a proposal last month by the US Fish and Wildlife Service that 838,000 acres of rough terrain on the US-Mexican border be designated Critical Habitat for the jaguar, the result of a lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) in Tucson. The designation covers mountain ranges stretching from the Tohono O’odham Reservation eastward to the southwesternmost corner of New Mexico. Jaguars were pretty much extirpated from the US early in the 20th Century, but there have been sightings of male jaguars over the years in parts of the proposed critical habitat, including one sighting and capture in 2009 that ended sadly.
Not mentioned in the d00dz-targeted article linked above: the largest impact of the critical habitat designation, if it’s approved, will likely be to cause problems for the proposed Rosemont copper mine in the Santa Rita mountains. CBD says the mine is its main concern with regard to protecting Arizona jaguar habitat. In response, in a statement likely to provoke wry smiles around these parts, a Rosemont Vice President accused CBD of bullying.
In any event, despite the enthusiasm of the Uproxx writer linked up top, the designation doesn’t mean we’re getting more jaguars: it just makes it somewhat harder to damage jaguar habitat with the federal government’s help.
So: stupid or clever? Uproxx writer Dan Seitz at least makes an effort to drop a little science, and he doesn’t get it completely wrong:
One theory maintains that peripheral populations are key to maintaining a species’ biodiversity. Species that live on the very edge of the range tend to develop new traits and evolve in different ways, then interbreed with other populations and pass on those useful mutations.
“Key” is an overstatement: some people do in fact suggest that peripheral populations may well be important for maintaining diversity in some species, but that certainly isn’t the only factor involved. Still, I wonder if I shouldn’t credit Seitz for slipping a little bit of science into a publication that features stories like this one, which is probably not safe for work even though it doesn’t involve stupid owls or lizards or some other animal that nobody actually cares about.