Mouse impacts ‘minimal’
Although the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse has been relisted in Wyoming, many who are involved with the issue don’t think the decision will have immediate or operation-changing effects on agriculture.
“The impact to agricultural operations will be minimal. It may be an inconvenience, but the listing shouldn’t cause an increase in expenses or a change in activities,” says U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Pat Deibert, who works from Cheyenne.
However, she says problems could arrive with projects that use federal funding, or state funding with federal ties, because of increased review.
“There could potentially be implications for folks who are waiting for funding to do work in riparian areas,” says Deibert. “It doesn’t mean they won’t be able to get those funds – it just may delay them.”
Although Deibert predicts minimal impacts to the agricultural industry, Renee Taylor of Taylor Environmental Consulting says it could be a big deal for the Niobrara Shale oil play, as well as for those who would like to build new houses or sheds on their private property. With respect to the energy industry, she says it’s relatively easy to avoid Preble’s habitat, because standard stipulations already direct oil and gas to stay 500 feet from riparian corridors.
The relisting, a decision made July 7, won’t actually take effect until Aug. 6, a date set by the judge. Deibert says that nothing on the ground or in the mouse’s habitat spurred the relisting decision – it was simply that the judge found fault with the FWS policy that allowed the mouse to be listed in one state and not another, using the state line as a boundary.
“We are disappointed in the ruling,” says Wyoming Farm Bureau Executive Vice President Ken Hamilton. “I don’t think we were in danger of having the mouse go extinct here in Wyoming.”
In 1998, the FWS listed the mouse as “threatened” under the ESA in Colorado and Wyoming; in 2003, the agency initiated efforts to designate “critical habitat,” which it revised in December 2010. In July 1999, the FWS received petitions to remove the mouse from the ESA list, but, in December 2003, refused to take action. In that same month, the State of Wyoming filed a petition to delist the mouse, and in February 2005 the FWS concluded delisting was warranted and initiated rulemaking to do so. In February 2006 the FWS extended the time to take final agency action on the proposed delisting.
Meanwhile, in March 2007 the Solicitor of the Department of the Interior issued an opinion concluding that the ESA permitted a species to be delisted in a part of its range while it retained its ESA protection elsewhere. In November 2007, FWS proposed to determine that the animal was no longer threatened in Wyoming and could be delisted. In July 2008 the FWS withdrew ESA protection for the Preble’s mouse in Wyoming.
Taylor says her research, funded by True Ranches, helped demonstrate that the mouse was much more broadly distributed in the state than anybody ever thought, and that the population was stable and sound, and that the subspecies is alive and well.
“The agency was able to determine that the threats to the mouse in Colorado don’t exist in Wyoming,” says Taylor, noting that along Colorado’s Front Range every riparian or stream corridor from Interstate 25 to the base of the Rockies contains either a housing development or a gravel pit.
“Those are things that threaten the mouse,” says Taylor, noting that some tried to make the case that livestock grazing was as detrimental as the development. “We were able to demonstrate through the historical record that, when the mouse was first found in 1904 by Chugwater, the habitat wasn’t nearly as good or as stable as it is today. There was little or no riparian habitat then, but now it’s back, and it’s beautiful.”
“In Wyoming we don’t have the urbanization in riparian corridors, or the gravel pits, so the Service was able to say the threats don’t exist in Wyoming, and they delisted,” says Taylor, adding that the state line was chosen as a simple way for people to know whether or not they were in the listed area.
In June 2009, several environmental groups filed a lawsuit in Colorado federal district court to challenge the July 2008 rule. In August 2009, the district court granted the right of the Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation and the Wyoming Stock Growers Association to intervene to defend the decision.
“The listing goes back to 1998, and with that we will restore the 4(d) rule,” says Deibert of the court’s most recent decision. The rule exempts certain agricultural activities from being considered an interference with a listed species.
“It basically says you can continue with normal agricultural activities, as long as it’s not your intent to kill the mouse,” she explains. “For folks who are grazing, and have good riparian management, this listing should not be an issue.”
“If you’ve traditionally hayed, your fine. If you switch crops to something that will require extra tillage, you might want to talk to someone, but that most likely won’t be in riparian areas, anyway,” she adds.
The mouse, which lives in southeast Wyoming riparian areas, can be found from Interstate 25 clear to the top of the Laramie Range, says Taylor.
“The listing applies to the whole state, but the animal is distributed only to Albany, Laramie, Platte, Goshen and Converse counties,” says Deibert. “It’s a riparian species that wants to be near water, and they’re underground for nine months of the year.”
Taylor says the mouse “adores” noxious weeds, and that the more nasty, snarly and wicked a place is, the better the mouse likes it.
“The mouse is alive and well and does not need to be relisted in the state of Wyoming,” says Taylor. “If you’re good to the riparian community, you’ll be good to the mouse, and we were able to demonstrate that the livestock industry has been good to riparian corridors, and thus to the mouse.”
Christy Martinez is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.