Thursday, March 12, 2009

On crying Wolf too soon... so long to "Macho B"

[map courtesy: Northern Jaguar Project]

For over a decade, a jaguar graced a mountain range I know well. Though ancestral jaguar habitat stretches all the way to the Colorado Plateau, researchers dubbed this cat "Macho B," perhaps as a nod to the concept of a Mexican origin. Every now and then a motion-detecting camera snapped his picture, so though I never saw him or his track, I knew he was there. Though the mountain range became a sacrifice zone in a border war seemingly without end, crisscrossed by night-trails, haunted by overflights, and subject to a migration-fighting wall, the jaguar survived. Other than occasional pictures, very little information was gathered on his day-to-day movements. In late February, he finally stepped in a snare, was radio-collared and released. When I heard the news, I posted a picture here with a celebratory comment that likely offended chihuahua lovers far and wide. On March 2, Arizona Game & Fish announced that the jaguar had been recaptured, transported to the Phoenix Zoo, and 'euthanized.' The post-mortem diagnosis was kidney failure. Here is an obituary, posted by Defenders of Wildlife, along with an overview of the group's Northern Jaguar recovery efforts. Also, the Center for Biological Diversity is soliciting donations to its Jaguar Recovery Fund, to pursue a lawsuit over habitat management.

I learned of of the jaguar's death as I was preparing a celebratory welcome for another species. On February 25th, a lone female wolf was recorded in Colorado, not far from Interstate 70 in Eagle County. This wolf was wearing a collar not much different from the one placed on the jaguar known as Macho B, and researchers had been able to trace her on a circuitous 1,000 mile route from a pack based north of Yellowstone National Park. According to the press release, she has roamed parts of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, and into Colorado, crossing from the Northern to Southern Rockies Ecosystem in the process. At least one other wolf made it this far in 2004, only to be killed as he tried to navigate the always dangerous I-70. At least for now, all wolves wandering into Colorado are to be treated as an endangered species, though with last week's decision by the Interior Department to de-list the Northern Rockies population, all bets are off.

In 2007, the Colorado Division of Wildlife posted video of another possible wolf north of Steamboat Springs:

I found no other reported sightings for this one, and there is no more public data on last month's sighting.

As usual, all these incidents received temporary media coverage in their respective areas, with just enough details to feed emotional responses ranging from fear through pity, with side trips into nostalgia and mourning. Realizing that one consideration missing from all accounts was a consideration of the fragmented landscape these animals had passed through, for the past few days I've been seeking habitat and wildlife corridor maps to add to the discussion. The news is not good, but this is what I've found...

Though efforts to define and establish wildlife corridors have been underway throughout the West for over twenty years, current knowledge is as fragmented as the habitat various groups are trying to 'save.' Arbitrary boundaries, ranging from the U. S. / Mexico border to a definition of 'Northern' vs. 'Southern' Rockies, limit maps and management plans to narrow areas of intense focus, surrounded by vast stretches of habitat incognita that wandering wildlife must navigate. A good source for an overview is the Western Governors' Association Wildlife Corridors Initiative Report, published in June, 2008. At 120 pages of politic prose, it could get you through a sleepless night, and may leave you howling in sympathy with the wandering wolf; but a set of maps on pages 12 to 26 should get you started thinking about just where we have to go from here, to move beyond overly studied and overtly controlled populations of feared and pitied trophy species, eventually hunted or "euthanized" from habitat once wild enough to call home.

[Wildlands Network Design map of Colorado (Southern Rockies Ecosystem Project)]

For more on wildlife corridor works-in-progress:
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