‘It’s not only an abuse of the language—it’s also an abuse of authority…’
(Michael Barnes, Liberty Headlines) A federal appeals court ruled Wednesday that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service illegally designated thousands of acres of land in New Mexico a protected jaguar habitat, despite only a few jaguar sightings in the state over the past several decades.
The 2014 designation effectively punished ranchers and caused unnecessary fire hazards in the Coronado National Forest.
The court determined the federal agency was “arbitrary and capricious” in how it exercised its vast powers, and that it didn’t even follow its own rules when imposing its authority.
The case has taken years to resolve, and the dispute boils down to federal bureaucrats playing word games “to stretch the limits of federal law beyond recognition,” said the Pacific Legal Foundation.
PLF, a nonprofit public-interest law firm representing three agricultural organizations that were affected by the designation: the New Mexico Farm and Livestock Bureau, New Mexico Cattlegrowers’ Association and New Mexico Federal Lands Council.
“This decision helps our clients and it helps Americans everywhere, because it reminds agencies that they must follow the law passed by Congress, and they must follow their own regulations,” said PLF Senior Attorney Christina Martin.
The Fish and Wildlife Service admitted that jaguars thrive in Central and South American tropical forests, where currently more than 64,000 jaguars live. Legally, this is their “primary” habitat. However, a few non-breeding jaguars have been spotted in small portions of dry areas in New Mexico and Arizona since the Endangered Species Act of 1973. Legally, this constitutes a “marginal,” “secondary” or “peripheral” habitat.
But Fish and Wildlife authorities during the Obama administration took control of thousands of acres of grazing land by arbitrarily deciding that a marginal and secondary habitat can simultaneously be a “critical” and “indispensable” habitat. By melding terms, the agency gave itself the authority to create harsh restrictions and permitting obstacles on ranchers.
“It’s not only an abuse of the language—it’s also an abuse of authority,” PLF said in a statement last year. The statement also said the entire affair was “an apparent effort to appease environmental groups.”
The decision comes after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously for the legal organization in a similar case in 2019.
According to its website, the Pacific Legal Foundation is dedicated to defending Americans threatened by government overreach and abuse. It currently has active cases in 39 states and Washington D.C.