Cooperatove Conservation Project
COOPERATIVE CONSERVATION CASE STUDY

Binational Ocelot Recovery Project

Landowners, Conservationists Collaborate to Save the Ocelot

Location: South-Central/South-West Region: Texas

Project Summary: Conservation agencies, organizations and foundations in Texas and Tamaulipas, Mexico team up with landowners to save the endangered ocelot through incentives-based stewardship.
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Ocelot kitten. Linda Laack, Environmental Defense.
Resource Challenge

The endangered ocelot (Felis pardalis albescens) population and range has become restricted in the US to extreme South Texas brush country, where its habitat is increasingly fragmented. An ocelot requires dense thorny vegetation to travel, hunt and rear young; this type of vegetation has been replaced by row-crop agriculture and urban development, and is expensive, difficult and time-consuming to restore. Male ocelots disperse widely in search of new home range before reaching two years of age, therefore more ocelots are killed crossing roads than from other causes. There are two known breeding populations currently remaining in Texas, and these populations are extremely vulnerable to drought, disease and in-breeding. There are populations across the border in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas as well, though less is known about the Tamaulipas population numbers and characteristics.

The conservation challenge and goal is to link existing breeding populations with habitat corridors on public and private land, and expand core habitat in both the US and Mexico. Direct involvement from private landowners who may sell easements, sign management agreements, and implement brush restoration projects, as well as contribute to research efforts, is essential. Several organizations and agencies have worked to benefit the ocelot over the years, and the most recent partnerships have coalesced because of two concrete actions: 1) Environmental Defense initiated a program (the Landowner Conservation Assistance Program - or LCAP) in the region to provide financial and technical assistance to landowners wishing to restore habitat, and 2) The US Fish & Wildlife Service is updating its Recovery Plan for the ocelot and convening key stakeholders to provide input.

Examples of Key Partners

Environmental Defense, Pronatura Noreste, Nature Conservancy of Texas, US Fish & Wildlife Service, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Natural Resource Conservation Service, Farm Services Agency, Texas A&M University researchers, the Meadows Foundation, Houston Endowment, and private landowners in Cameron, Willacy and Hidalgo counties and the San Fernando region in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas.

Results and Accomplishments

Currently six landowners are participating in ED's LCAP and restoring brush very near areas where ocelots are known to occur, so that in the future these lands can be used as core habitat for the cats. Landowners signed agreements stating that they would protect the restored area for up to 20 years. The US Fish & Wildlife Service, Meadows Foundation, Houston Endowment and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department have provided or are providing funds for this work. In addition, Environmental Defense worked with Texas Parks & Wildlife, the NRCS and FSA to write a special practice for the Conservation Reserve Program - a popular US Department of Agriculture incentives program that essentially pays farmers to take highly erodible land out of production - called "Rare and Declining Habitat", that will allow farmers and ranchers to receive cost-share from the USDA to not only take land out of production but also restore native thorny vegetation for the ocelot. This practice should be available to South Texas landowners during the next CRP sign-up period.

The Nature Conservancy of Texas, US Fish & Wildlife Service, and NRCS all provide information to ED and to landowners regarding key areas of interest and potential program participants, as well as advise ED on restoration techniques and best practices. Texas A&M University in Kingsville researchers provide information on ocelot ecology.  A new focus of the work will be on mapping key corridors and more strategically targeting incentives programs where they will have maximum effect for ocelots, and all organizations listed will play a role in this effort.

ED works with Pronatura Noreste through contractual arrangement to direct funds to landowners in Tamaulipas where ocelots are known or suspected to occur. The funds are used to complete wildlife surveys and management plans, and go toward small projects such as fencing a sensitive area of brush to protect it from grazing. Funds from the Dallas Zoo to Pronatura Noreste recently paid for some expanded research to find out where breeding populations of ocelots in Tamaulipas might be concentrated. A new focus of ED's work here, as a result of the Dallas Zoo research, will be to involve an expanded pool of landowners where ocelots have been found and further increase research on these private ranches. The research will involve setting up trip cameras to capture ocelots on film and installing scent pads that cats rub on, leaving hairs that will be analyzed for genetic material. Key in this effort will be Environmental Defense, Texas A&M University Kingsville, Pronatura Noreste and Nature Conservancy.

Innovation/Highlight

Texas and Tamaulipas ranchers are excited about contributing to the recovery of an endangered species, and for the first time in this area, the Natural Resource Conservation Service and Farm Services Agency will be key players in the effort.

Project Contact
Karen Chapman
Water & Wildlife Analyst
Environmental Defense
1301 East Madison
Brownsville, TX 78520
956-466-4655
kchapman@ed.org
Linda Laack
Biologist
Environmental Defense
44 East Avenue Ste 304
Austin, TX 78701
512-478-5161
llaack@ed.org
Website: http://www.environmentaldefense.org/article.cfm?contentid=3469&linkID=49

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