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Mouse jumps off the threatened list, except in Colorado

July 10, 2008 | 10:25 am


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Wednesday that it will remove the Preble's meadow jumping mouse from the threatened species list in Wyoming, but keep the mouse on the list in Colorado, the Associated Press reports:

The government said the mouse can be delisted in Wyoming because new populations have been confirmed in habitat not at risk for development. But in Colorado, home construction and other types of development continue to threaten Preble's mouse habitat, Fish and Wildlife officials said.

“Much of Preble's riparian habitat in Colorado has been severely altered or destroyed by human activities,” said Steve Guertin, director of Fish and Wildlife's Mountain-Prairie Region. “Continued rapid development is expected along Colorado's Front Range as the population continues to grow. Without the protection of the federal Endangered Species Act, much of Preble's habitat would be lost.”

The Preble's mouse, which has a tail twice the length of its 3-inch body, lives in streamside habitats and the adjacent foothills of southeastern Wyoming and along part of Colorado's Front Range, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service. It can jump as far as three feet to escape predators.

Environmentalists including the Center for Native Ecosystems reacted to the announcement by saying they're preparing to file suit to restore the mouse's threatened status in Wyoming.

“They're using a political boundary, a state line, which is totally arbitrary, to decide which mice still deserve protection. That's not the intent of the Endangered Species Act and that won't accomplish recovery for the mouse,” said Erin Robertson, a senior staff biologist with the Denver-based Center for Native Ecosystems.

“Wyoming has some of the best recovery habitat for the mouse and it makes no sense to cut it out of protection,” she said.

Robertson said her group is preparing a letter to provide 60 days' notice of intent to sue, a requirement of federal law.

The Preble's mouse has been listed as a threatened species since 1998, when the decision sparked a scientific debate over whether the Preble's mouse is a distinct subspecies of jumping mouse or is genetically indistinguishable from other subspecies of jumping mice.

The Fish and Wildlife Service announced last fall its preliminary finding that the Preble's mouse is distinct and that continued listing was warranted in Colorado but not in Wyoming.

Wednesday's announcement matched those recommendations. The agency said additional trapping and genetic testing of mice in southeast Wyoming revealed more Preble's mouse populations than were thought to have existed.

“There's literally dozens of locations where Preble's has been verified,” said Pete Plage, a Fish and Wildlife Service biologist.

The agency said many of those mice have been found on farmland and ranchland that isn't considered at risk for development any time soon.

Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal, a Democrat, said listing of the Preble's mouse spurred the state to fund scientific studies gathering data on the mouse's population and distribution in Wyoming.

“While we will always contend that the absence of information and data should never lead to a listing, as was the case with the Preble's and frankly, other species, we learned the hard way that we are better served to gather the data, fund the research and collectively work with our federal, state, local and private partners to deal with whatever the science shows,” Freudenthal said.

In Colorado, Fish and Wildlife officials expect to revive a team made up of representatives of state and federal wildlife agencies, agriculture and business interests, and the U.S. Air Force to write a recovery plan for the Preble's mouse.

Colorado Republican Sen. Wayne Allard criticized the federal decision, saying it defied common sense.

“I have a hard time understanding how a mouse could wake up in Colorado and be considered threatened, cross over into Wyoming to forage for food and not be threatened, then come back to bed down in Colorado and be threatened again,” Allard said.

But Wyoming Republican Sens. Mike Enzi and John Barrasso welcomed new of delisting in their state.

“Wyoming farmers and ranchers worked together to keep a viable population of the mouse without the need of federal protection,” Enzi said. “Because of their hard work Wyoming farmers and ranchers will not be held hostage by a mouse.”

Erik Molvar, executive director of the Laramie-based Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, said environmentalists had “no choice but to challenge this illegal decision in court.”

--Francisco Vara-Orta

Photo: Associated Press

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