Challenge to meadow jumping mouse habitat designation denied

By Laura Bies

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s designation of critical habitat for New Mexico meadow jumping mouse survived a legal challenge last week. Credit: Desert LLC

A U.S. federal district court judge dismissed a 2018 lawsuit challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2016 designation of critical habitat for the New Mexico meadow jumping mouse (Zapus hudsonius luteus).

The Northern New Mexico Stockman’s Association and the Otero County Cattleman’s Association filed the lawsuit, arguing, among other claims, that the USFWS should have further considered the economic impact of the designation

The USFWS listed the New Mexico jumping mouse as endangered under the Endangered Species Act 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.

The USFWS designated 14,000 acres along 170 miles of streams and waterways in New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado as critical habitat for the mouse in 2016. Both plaintiffs in the case graze cattle in the Santa Fe and Lincoln National Forests, parts of which were included in the designation. The U.S. Forest Service put up fencing around some streams and watering holes in these forests to prevent degradation of the mouse’s habitat.

In dismissing the cattlemen’s claim, the judge found that the USFWS 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. Further, he deemed 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.

In an unrelated lawsuit involving the jumping mouse filed in February of this year, the Center for Biological Diversity sued the USFWS and the U.S. Forest Service, arguing that the agencies are violating the ESA by permitting livestock and failing to manage feral horses (Equus ferus) that continue to access some streams and wetlands along national forests in Arizona. A judgment has not yet been issued in that case.

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.

Share your thoughts on this article, and others, on our Facebook and Twitter pages.