An appeals court on Wednesday ruled that federal wildlife regulators incorrectly marked parts of the U.S. as critical habitat for endangered jaguars.
The three-judge panel found that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had not done enough to prove that the land in question was critical to jaguars' survival.
The Fish and Wildlife Service had marked certain parts of southern Arizona as critical jaguar habitat. This ruling applies only to that contested land, not to jaguars' entire known range within the United States.
The ruling comes as part of a copper mining case. Rosemont Copper Co., an arm of Canada-based Hudbay Minerals, plans to build a $1.9 billion open-pit copper mine in southern Arizona.
In 2014, more than 350,000 acres in southern Arizona were classified as critical habitat for jaguars. An Arizona district court affirmed that designation in 2020, and the mining company appealed.
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According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, the jaguar's range extends into small portions of Arizona and New Mexico, on the border with Mexico.
Judge Danielle Forrest pointed out that only a very small portion of the jaguars' overall range is in the United States.
Forrest wrote in the majority opinion for the court: "Habitat that 'may (or may not) be important to the conservation of jaguars' definitionally is not essential to conservation. To conclude otherwise would render meaningless Congress’s limitations on the government's authority to designate land as unoccupied critical habitat."
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