Endangered Jaguar at Crux of New Border-Wall Fight

El Jefe, one of the few wild jaguars in the United States. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

WASHINGTON (CN) — Three environmental groups challenging the border wall between the United States and Mexico argued Tuesday in a federal complaint that the plan will completely kill off a population of jaguar.

While jaguars are the largest cats in the Americas, their population numbers are shrinking. 

Defenders of Wildlife, one of the groups behind today’s suit, says there are around 64,000 jaguars left in the Americas. Of the 34 jaguar subpopulations, 25 are considered threatened and eight are in danger of extinction because of habitat destruction, trophy hunting and conflict with humans.

The suit came three months after the Trump administration announced 177 miles of new border wall using $7.2 million in funds that Congress appropriated to the military for other purposes.

Defenders of Wildlife, which brought the suit in Washington with the Center for Biological Diversity and the Animal Legal Defense Fund, says the diversion of funding is illegal.

“In total, the Trump administration has now allocated more than $18.4 billion to the president’s border wall,” the complaint states. “The administration estimates that this $18.4 billion will fund approximately 900 miles of construction. Well less than a third of this money — $5.1 billion — has been appropriated by Congress.”

In a phone interview about the suit, Center for Biological Diversity senior attorney Brian Segee explained that doing so bypassed the Endangered Species Act.

“The way it should happen is before construction starts the action agency, in this case, the Department of Homeland Security or Customs and Border Protection, would normally have to consult with the expertise of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure that its actions don’t jeopardize the continued existence of endangered species, of which there are many on the border, or their critical habitats, but all of that is out the window with the waivers,” Segee said.

The 31 distinct wall projects proposed in February would span unfenced areas in California, Arizona and New Mexico.

“These areas are home to some of the last remaining undisturbed habitat for wildlife and walling them off would push these species to the brink of extinction,” Jason Rylander, senior counsel for Defenders of Wildlife, said in a statement Tuesday.

Segee noted the border-wall plans are interfering with some of the most remote and environmentally important protected federal lands in the country.

“For endangered species like the jaguars in the United States, what’s critically important is that the walls are going to block off their ability to move between populations in the U.S. and Mexico, which means that species like the jaguar which depend on those movements are going to blink out in the United States,” he said.

Tuesday’s lawsuit says that the new construction plans will also hurt ocelots and the endangered Mexican gray wolf.

The same groups sued the administration in February 2019, when President Trump used emergency declaration funds to pay for the border walls.

The Department of Defense did not immediately respond to a request for comment for this piece.

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