Agencies agree to jumping mouse protections

By Laura Bies

A nonprofit organization and two federal agencies have entered a court-approved agreement on protections for the New Mexico meadow jumping mouse. Credit: Desert LCC

The New Mexico meadow jumping mouse will receive more habitat protections on national forests in eastern Arizona, under a recent court case settlement agreement. 

In a case filed in February 2020, the Center for Biological Diversity sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Forest Service, arguing that the agencies are violating the Endangered Species Act by permitting livestock and feral horses (Equus ferus) to continue accessing some streams and wetlands along national forests in Arizona. The federally endangered jumping mouse, which faces threats of habitat loss and fragmentation, uses this these same areas that livestock and feral horses can damage or destroy.   

The parties have now settled that case, with the USFS agreeing to maintain and expand fencing around waterways on the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests, to protect the mouse’s habitat from livestock and feral horse damage. The agency already has plans to construct and prioritize an additional 2.25 miles of fencing. They also committed to completing an additional stretch of 2.75 miles, for which the Center for Biological Diversity agreed to help to find funding. The USFS will also regularly check and maintain existing fencing to keep livestock and feral horses away from key mouse habitat. 

As another condition of the agreement, the USFWS will prepare a recovery plan for the jumping mouse. A final recovery plan must be completed by January 31, 2023. 

The USFWS listed the New Mexico meadow jumping mouse (Zapus hudsonius luteus) as endangered under the ESA in 2014, based on substantial habitat loss and fragmentation from grazing, water management, drought and wildfire. Researchers have identified 29 populations of jumping mice in the last 15 years — two in Colorado, 15 in New Mexico and 12 in Arizona.

Last year, a federal district court judge dismissed a separate lawsuit challenging the USFWS’s 2016 designation of critical habitat for the mouse. The Northern New Mexico Stockman’s Association and the Otero County Cattleman’s Association filed the lawsuit in 2018, arguing that the USFWS should have further considered the designation’s economic impact. The judge found that the agency was justified in not excluding areas from the critical habitat designation due to economic impacts. He also found that the USFWS was not required to compensate plaintiffs for the reduction in value of their water rights and that the USFWS was not required to consider all the economic impacts associated with the mouse’s listing when designating critical habitat, only the incremental costs of the designation itself.

Read TWS’ Standing Position on Threatened and Endangered Species in the U.S. and Position Statement on the U.S. Endangered Species Act

Laura BiesLaura Bies is a government relations contractor and freelance writer for The Wildlife Society. She has a B.S. in Environmental Science and a law degree from George Washington University. Laura has worked with The Wildlife Society since 2005. Read more of Laura's articles.

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