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Group Takes On Interior Secretary Salazar's Foot-dragging on Species Protection
Tucson, AZ-July 15. WildEarth Guardians (Guardians) filed suit today against Interior Secretary Ken Salazar over his failure to protect the New Mexico Meadow Jumping Mouse under the federal Endangered Species Act. This jumping mouse occurs in only a handful of remaining hideouts in Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico.
“This fascinating creature is experiencing dramatic population declines due to an onslaught of threats. Secretary Salazar is standing on the sidelines while the jumping mouse freefalls toward extinction,” stated Dr. Nicole Rosmarino of WildEarth Guardians.
Suffering an array of human threats, the New Mexico Meadow Jumping Mouse (Zapus hudsonius luteus) has experienced an 85% decline: currently only 16 out of an originally surveyed 103 populations survive. There are threats to nearly every single remaining population. Livestock grazing is the chief culprit driving the animal towards extinction. While Mr. Salazar recognizes that this mouse faces high-magnitude and imminent threats and warrants Endangered Species Act listing (protection), he has withheld listing, contending the mouse is precluded by “higher priorities.”
Today’s lawsuit challenges the delay by Mr. Salazar in protecting this animal, contending that he cannot rely on the “warranted but precluded” loophole because he is not listing higher priority species or making expeditious progress in the listing program. In the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Southwest Region, which includes Arizona and New Mexico and has authority for this jumping mouse, no species has been listed since 2005. Only one new species has been listed in the continental U.S. by Mr. Salazar since President Obama appointed him to office.
“The endangered species listing program has essentially ground to a halt nationwide and has reached a complete standstill in the southwest. With cattle grazing its habitat to the bone, the jumping mouse simply cannot afford further delay,” stated Rosmarino.
The New Mexico Meadow Jumping Mouse is a fascinating animal. It is specially adapted for agility, with large hind feet and a tail longer than its body. It can jump up to three feet high and both swims and jumps to avoid predators. It also has one of the longest hibernation periods of any mammal, being active - at most - from May to October.
The New Mexico Meadow Jumping Mouse depends on lush streamside areas, with grasses several feet in height. Given its strict habitat requirements, the mouse is an “indicator” of high-value wildlife habitat, as such areas are important for a wide variety of western wildlife. However, healthy streamsides are increasingly rare in the range of this mouse, due principally to livestock grazing. Cattle spend much time in and along streams, depleting them of protective vegetation and causing severe degradation. An important land manager of New Mexico Meadow Jumping Mouse habitat, the U.S. Forest Service, allows livestock to graze grasses down to just 4-6 inches in height, despite the mouse’s requirement of grasses more than 30 inches in height. The depletion of grass cover exposes jumping mice to predators, degrades their stream habitat, and reduces the forage so vital for mice to prepare for their long hibernation.
Other threats include water use and management, climate change and drought, highway reconstruction, and development. In addition, beaver help jumping mice, and beaver killing is therefore a danger. During surveys for the jumping mouse in 2005 and 2006, all but one population was found in areas from which livestock were excluded. The single exception where mice occurred in an area with cattle grazing was in an extensive wetland created by beaver dams that cattle were reluctant to enter. Notably, Mr. Salazar’s Interior Department itself threatens the mouse through mowing and irrigation activities at the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.
Today’s lawsuit occurs during the International Year of Biodiversity, in which Guardians is a formal partner. During this year, through the United Nations, “The world is invited to take action in 2010 to safeguard the variety of life on earth: biodiversity.”
Guardians, leading a coalition of over 100 scientists and conservation groups, has called for Ken Salazar’s resignation as Interior Secretary, due to his failure to protect endangered species, his facilitation of the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, and his general unwillingness or inability to protect wildlife and natural areas throughout the U.S.