Volume 9, Number 2 Summer 1998

The Mouse That Roared

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On March 25, 1997 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed the listing of the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse (PMJM) as an endangered species under the federal Endangered Species Act. The PMJM is known to exist only along the Front Range of Colorado and in southeastern Wyoming. It is found in relatively undisturbed, well-vegetated riparian areas at elevations between approximately 5,000 and 7,000 feet. Evidence of a decline in the historical range of the PMJM, of limited captures in remaining locations, and of uncertain protection prompted the FWS to propose the listing.

The State of Colorado initiated efforts in 1996 to address concerns about the PMJM. A Stakeholders’ Working Group recommended use of a collaborative planning process to develop a conservation plan for the mouse. A formal process to develop such a plan got underway in February 1998. The Colorado Riparian Association is represented in this process by Larry MacDonnell.

As outlined by Doug Robotham, Assistant Director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, the process emphasizes the use of five “planning subareas”: Larimer/Weld Counties; Boulder County; Jefferson County/Rocky Flats; Douglas/Elbert Counties; and El Paso County/the Air Force Academy. After an initial kickoff meeting in Denver involving about 70 members of the Working Group on February 2, two meetings were held in most of the subareas. The first of these meetings was largely a get-acquainted process, with a suggestion that the group focus on identifying ways in which the PMJM is being protected so that the FWS did not need to list it. The Boulder Subarea group declined this request but made clear its commitment to the development of a conservation plan. The second focused on identifying areas needing protection (defined to be those in which the PMJM has been trapped) and attempted to elicit ideas for protection strategies. A second meeting of the Working Group was held in Denver on March 17 to begin discussion of a number of “range-wide” issues including funding, application of known science to the planning process, consistent treatment for crosscutting activities such as roads and utility corridors, fairness among subarea processes, and process governance.

A final FWS listing decision is now overdue. The FWS could decide the PMJM is “endangered” (in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range), “threatened” (likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range), or that listing is not warranted at this time. A fourth option is a six month extension to obtain information deemed necessary to the listing decision. [On May 12, the Preble’s Meadow Jumping Mouse was listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. Ed.]

If the PMJM is listed, the requirements of the 1973 Endangered Species Act would apply. Most prominently, all federal agencies are required to insure that any action they propose to take not jeopardize the continued existence of a listed species. Thus, a federal agency may not provide funding or issue a permit to a private activity that might jeopardize the mouse’s existence. In addition, no person may “take” a listed species of wildlife — defined to include actions that would harass or harm the species. The FWS is required to develop and implement a plan that will recover all listed species.