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Protected jumping mouse creates legal fights in Colorado

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

DENVER — Biologists are surveying Colorado’s fast-growing Front Range for a protected species of mouse that has become a source of frustration for ranchers and the real estate industry.

A recent search turned up no Preble’s meadow jumping mice at the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge outside of Denver, the Denver Post reported Sunday.

Similar mouse-trapping expeditions are planned through the summer, including at the U.S. Air Force Academy north of Colorado Springs and in the foothills west of Boulder.

Even though they are shielded by law, Preble’s mice have declined across a range that extends from Wyoming to Colorado springs. Meanwhile development pressures continue to mount as new housing and commercial developments go up in the animal’s habitat.

Legal pressures also are increasing, as attorneys for the ranching and construction industries argued last week that it makes no sense to give so much power to a mouse. The Colorado Association of Home Builders, Colorado Cattlemen’s Association and Housing and Building Association of Colorado Springs recently asked the federal government to lift protections for the species.

The groups said that saving streamside habitat for mice is hurting their business and argued that the mouse is not sufficiently distinct from the more-abundant Western jumping mouse to qualify for federal Endangered Species Act protection.

“Why waste money protecting a population that is not important to the species as a whole or to biodiversity?” Pacific Legal Foundation attorney Damien Schiff said, making the groups’ case to lift protections for the Preble’s mouse. “It is not economical or socially feasible to protect every population.”

A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service review in 2013 concluded that human development and other activities fragmented and changed Preble’s mouse habitat, that the mice are likely to face extinction “within the foreseeable future,” and that they require continued protection.

The Endangered Species Act requires landowners to at least consult with federal officials before disturbing mouse habitat and to obtain permits for projects where harm can be minimized through careful planning.

“We could delist the mouse due to extinction,” Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Craig Hansen said. “But we’re not going to let that happen to this mouse. We have enough tools, and conservation partners, to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
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Information from: The Denver Post, http://www.denverpost.com

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