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Lawsuit claims the endangered mouse is not protected in New Mexico

A rare mouse and endangered owl species, both native to the Sacramento Mountains of southern New Mexico, were at the center of a lawsuit filed by conservationists who alleged the federal government has so far failed to adequately protect both species from extinction .

The meadow jumping mouse is threatened by livestock grazing and other industrial practices in its native range, read a notice of intent to sue filed last week by the Center for Biological Diversity.

The lawsuit argued that the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service failed to add protections to riparian areas along riverbeds in the Sacramento Mountains to prevent excessive livestock grazing, further endangering the mouse and the Mexican spotted owl come.

The meadow jumping mouse was listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act in 2014, meaning its extinction is imminent and the federal government must set aside critical habitat where the species can recover its population.

More: Protection for rare mice in Lincoln National Forest upheld by federal court

Today the species is known to survive mainly in Otero County, but was also known to occur in counties further north and south in New Mexico, along with parts of Arizona and Colorado.

The listing and efforts to restrict land use to save the mouse faced strong opposition from New Mexico’s agricultural community, with the New Mexico Cattle Grower’s Association submitting public comments during the listing and critical habitat designation processes , and opposed government actions that would harm the trade groups. the rights of landowners.

Most recently, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a plan in 2022 to restore the mouse’s population after it set aside 13,973 acres as critical habitat in New Mexico and other states within the species’ range.

In total, the project to restore the meadow jumping mouse is expected to cost about $49.5 million and take up to 12 years, the recovery plan says.

In public comments filed against the plan, the New Mexico Cattle Grower’s Association argued that the federal recovery plan was inadequate to protect the species because it reportedly lacked “objective criteria” needed to delist the species, and wrongly blamed livestock as the cause of the species. decline in population.

Association president Bronson Corn said greatly increased elk and wild horse populations were more responsible than farm livestock for damage to mouse habitats. He said setting aside critical habitat not only blocked land needed for grazing, but also access to water sources such as rivers and streams for livestock to drink.

“When it comes to the meadow jumping mouse, this could be sheer destruction for the livestock industry,” Corn said. “There is no scientific data on where they say the habitat should be. The population and location they are trying to claim as critical habitat, it is baseless for them to say livestock is causing the damage. It’s sad what they are pushing down to the farmer.

The meadow jumping mouse needs tall, dense vegetation along rivers and streams, and plentiful food to develop fat reserves for the 10-month hibernation period. They also need intact areas upstream to build nests or dens for giving birth in summer and hibernating in winter.

“Federal officials have a long-standing pattern of failing to control destructive livestock grazing,” said Robin Silver of the Center for Biological Diversity. “It is immoral and illegal for the Forest Service to neglect its responsibility to protect this critical habitat, and that failure will lead to local extinctions.”

More: Forest Service responds to a cease and desist letter from Otero County regarding grazing

The Fish and Wildlife Service’s plan to recover the animal prompted the agency to preserve the natural condition of the riverbeds and minimize the effects of wildfires and the effects of drought and erosion.

But the organization still allows livestock to graze in habitats along riverbeds, areas essential to the mouse’s survival. They hibernate for nine months a year, the suit states. That means a small window of three months for reproduction, which can be disrupted by the presence of livestock concentrated in riparian areas.

The Mexican spotted owl was listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act in 1993, meaning the federal government expects it to be listed as endangered soon. The species is native to southeastern New Mexico, including Eddy, Lincoln and Otero counties, and requires dense, old-growth forests to survive, the suit said, making Lincoln National Forest ideal for the species to rebuild its population numbers. to grow.

This habitat is also threatened by grazing, as well as logging in the Lincoln National Forest, the lawsuit says, and it continues to shrink despite the listing amid alleged government inaction.

“The Forest Service and Fish and Wildlife Service must do their job and protect these vulnerable animals,” Silver said. “Taxpayers already subsidize livestock grazing on public lands, and they certainly should not have to pay to destroy these beautiful meadows and streams or to wipe out an entire species.”

The Otero County Cattlemen’s Association (OCCA) argued in its public comments that converting rangelands to protect mouse habitat, and similar actions, could also wipe out New Mexico’s agricultural industry.

“The costs of past USFWS efforts have been astronomical to taxpayers and downright inhumane to those who have a financial and vested interest in the outcomes of such government proposals and actions,” read the comments.

“OCCA also believes that the USFWS does not have the constitutional authority to relocate and/or regulate the property of the rightful allotment owner.”

Adriaan Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, [email protected] or @AdrianHedden on the social media platform X.

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