Small mouse relisting may bring big conflict

Aug 12, 2011
by WLJ

The Preble’s meadow jumping mouse has hopped its way back onto the threatened species list folowing a controversial court ruling in Denver, CO, by U.S. District Judge John L. Kane last month.

The consequences of this relisting are still unknown as Wyoming ranchers are forced back to past practices. "Our hope is that it isn’t going to have a significant impact on agricultural practices. The ruling takes us back to 2004 practices, and any ag practices after that date would need to be reviewed. I have talked with a number of ranchers, and so far I haven’t found anything that will be significantly different," said Jim Magagna, executive vice president for the Wyoming Stock Growers Association.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) first listed the species as threatened in 1998 under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). It was then delisted in 2008, but only in Wyoming.

Preble’s populations throughout the species’ range in Colorado and Wyoming will be federally protected, with a special rule in place to allow rodent control, agricultural operations, landscape maintenance, noxious weed control, ditch maintenance, and other specified activities to occur provided they are conducted in accordance with the requirements of the special rule," according to USFWS.

The mouse, which is roughly nine inches long and can jump up to three feet when threatened, favors riparian areas. Preble’s meadow jumping mouse inhabits well-developed riparian habitat with adjacent, relatively undisturbed grassland communities and a nearby water source, according to USFWS.

"I think it is going to have some limited effect. From what I understand, normal agricultural practices are covered under section 4D. We do not anticipate it to have negative effects," said Martin Grenier, non-game mammal biologist for the Wyoming Game and Fish department.

"Now that the taxonomy of the species has been resolved, we are now trying to determine the distribution across the state. The first thing we need to do is determine where the species occur. We know the general habitat characteristics. There are a lot of suspected areas, but definitive records are lacking. Unless activities are going to impact riparian areas where they live, which there are already policies in place to protect, there is not a lot of concern over the listing," Grenier said.

The distribution project is taking place now and will help determine the future for this mammal. "From there, we can begin to address the listing with data that either refutes or helps the listing. We are currently involved with live capture surveys. In order to identify, we have to do genetic analysis. Now, that is very easy. We can take a hole punch and a small blood sample to determine the species," Grenier said.

He continued, "We will continue to have dialogue with the USFWS and, hopefully, the results show the mouse is widely abundant. Then it can be delisted. In the meantime, we will leave existing habitats how they are."

Even though the Wyoming Game and Fish does not believe the listing will have an impact on agriculture, others are not sure. "We have land owners with wind energy research and mineral rights and my expectation is that all of those activities will be affected. If they are located in critical habitat areas, they would be affected. That will certainly affect some of the agreements and revenues the farmers and ranchers have from those agreements."

Magagna believes the biggest effect will not be on cattle ranchers, but on the energy industry. "The cattle industry in Wyoming will be affected long term, but the biggest effect will be on the energy industry, especially oil, gas and wind. There is a certain amount of habitat destruction with these. New analysis will need to be done to determine the impacts. These result in additional delays and expenses. If we have landowners who need information, we can provide them with info on what was covered with the original rules. If they think they may have a practice that harms the habitat, it will need to be reviewed," he said.

The Preble’s mouse has remained on the threatened species list for Colorado. The mouse’s range falls in Wyoming and Colorado. "This is a great day for wildlife," said Duane Short, wild wpecies program director with Biodiversity Conservation Alliance of Laramie, WY. "Wyoming streamside habitats offer the best chance for survival of the jumping mouse, and especially with Colorado jumping mouse populations decimated by development, it is critical to protect this rare animal where it has the best chance to survive."

Conservation groups, including Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, Rocky Mountain Wild, Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity, and the Natural Resources Defense Council filed a lawsuit against the removal.

The species was originally removed due to interpretation of the ESA. It states species can be listed if they are "in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of the range." Two rulings invalidated the interpretation, and USFWS is revising the policy.

Not everyone is pleased with the ruling. "The ESA designations are said to be based on the best available science," U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-WY, said. "Today’s relisting announcement by the USFWS is another reminder that many listings are actually based on the best available lawyer."

The release declared, "These designations are now mostly driven by the courts instead of wildlife experts, which was never the original intent of the ESA."

According to USFWS, habitat loss, alteration, degradation, and fragmentation resulting from urban development, flood control, water development and other human land uses, especially in riparian habitat, have adversely impacted Preble’s meadow jumping mouse populations.

‘We don’t want it to be listed. We work to minimize listing and work to remove species in the future from the endangered species list. Depending on the distribution finds, we can then make a long-term goal as to how long that will take. In the meantime, we will continue to work with folks to minimize the potential impacts due to this listing," said Grenier.

Magagna agreed with trying to find a way to get the mouse off the list. "We want to be supportive and assist in any way that we can that shows the mouse is not threatened in Wyoming. Proactive practices will help improve the habitat for the mouse," he said. — Robyn Scherer, WLJ Editor