/ Modified jul 30, 2013 9:45 a.m.

Feds Hold Jaguar Sanctuary Meeting

Public invited to Sierra Vista gathering Tuesday; state game officials oppose plan to set aside 1,300 sq. miles.

Federal wildlife officials will listen to comments from the public Tuesday on their proposal to set aside more than 1,300 square miles in Arizona and New Mexico for the endangered jaguar.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will hold an informational meeting in Sierra Vista at Buena High School Performing Arts Center, from 3:30 to 5 p.m. A public hearing will follow from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

One jaguar has been spotted on remote cameras in Southern Arizona on several occasions in recent years. It has been listed as a federal endangered species since 1997.

Last year, the Fish and Wildlife Service proposed setting aside the land in southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico because it could benefit conservation of the species.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department announced its opposition to the plan, saying that land represents less than 1 percent of the species' historic range and is not essential to its conservation.

"Conservation of the species is entirely reliant on activities in the jaguar's primary habitat of Central and South America to be successful," said a statement on the Game and Fish website. "The six areas identified as proposed jaguar critical habitat in Arizona already offer protection to the species through the Endangered Species Act."

The agency's statement said a set-aside for the jaguar "would likely result in denial of access to lands for jaguar conservation and research efforts; fewer observations of jaguars being reported; and, less timely sighting reports from people that do choose to report a jaguar."

But a U.S. Fish and Wildlife document delineating its proposal said, "We do not anticipate activities such as grazing, ranching operations, human access, or limited recreational activity would have adverse effects to jaguar critical habitat."

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