The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has declared 1,194 square miles of protected habitat in Arizona and New Mexico for the West's biggest cats.
New Mexico and Arizona are the northernmost part of the jaguar's habitat. Forest officials say there's only one jaguar that lives in Arizona on US Forest Service land outside of Tucson.
Modern jaguars evolved in the United States 280,000-510,000 years ago before traveling south and populating Central and South America.
"They're a quintessential native of the United States," said Michael Robinson, from the Center for Biological Diversity. "So for them, now, to be given the chance to be in a small portion of the range that they once inhabited really is returning a native that should be back home."
The jaguar critical habitat designation will be in place until the jaguar population size is large enough to be taken off the endangered species list in the U.S.
"We're a long ways from that," Robinson said.
Critical habitat designation protects federal land from federally funded activities or permits, but it doesn't prevent private land owners from using the land.