WASHINGTON – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants to list the New Mexico meadow jumping mouse as an endangered species and to set aside more than 6,000 acres in eastern Arizona as critical habitat for the animals.
The plan, posted Thursday in the Federal Register, is urgently needed to help stem a “really concerning rate” of disappearance of the mice, said supporters of the endangered species listing.
The designation of critical habitat accompanies the proposed endangered species listing and identifies 14,561 acres along streams in New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona. The 6,046 acres in Arizona would be in the White Mountains in Greenlee and Apache counties.
Tom Buckley, a Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman, said the habitat designation would not affect land owners but could have some impact on agriculture and construction projects within the area.
“We’ll work with those who have concerns to make sure they can do the work they want to do,” he said.
But supporters said the plan – which remains open for public comment until Aug. 5 – comes none too soon. WildEarth Guardians had originally petitioned to have this particular jumping mouse declared endangered in 2007.
“We’ve been waiting all this long and we actually petitioned for an emergency listing,” said Bethany Cotton, wildlife program director at WildEarth Guardians.
“Now they are disappearing in a really concerning rate,” Cotton said, noting that New Mexico meadow jumping mouse populations have shrunk by at least 76 percent during the past 15 years.
Buckley agreed with Cotton on the urgency to designate critical habitat for the jumping mouse and said many factors are threatening the species.
One of the most important is the jumping mouse’s short life span and low reproduction rate, he said.
“The fact that they only live three years or less makes the species hard to reproduce, especially when resources are not available in a single season,” Buckley said. “Besides, it has a low survival rate during hibernation.”
Buckley noted that jumping mouse hibernates about nine months out of the year, leaving it with a very short timeframe to breed, give birth and raise its young before going back into hibernation.
Cotton said another factor is overgrazing, which destroys the streamside and wet-meadow habitat on which the mouse depends. She said this particular jumping mouse requires “exceptionally specialized habitat,” including tall, dense riparian vegetation.
Current habitats are “too small to support” a resilient population, she said. The problem is compounded by climate change and forest fire.
“Obviously we are seeing it right now, with so many fires in New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona every day,” Cotton said.
She said the New Mexico meadow jumping mouse is important to the ecosystem and deserves full protection.
“We need to make sure this amazing species will survive,” she said.