JUNE 25, 2013
American taxpayers will be tremendously relieved to know that the U.S. government is hard at work trying to get official endangered status for a wild mouse with an unusual eight to nine month hibernation period that contributes to the species’ vulnerability.
It’s called the New Mexico meadow jumping mouse and the feds want to designate it a critical habitat protected under the Endangered Species Act, the 1973 law signed by President Richard Nixon to protect species from extinction as a “consequence of economic growth and development untempered by adequate concern and conservation.”
The federal government’s list of more than 1,300 threatened or endangered species includes more than 700 plants, hundreds of invertebrates, more than 100 fish as well as dozens of birds, mammals and reptiles. Among them are the Florida panther, American crocodile, brown bear, Mexican bobcat, Florida manatee, California condor, ivory-billed woodpecker and small tooth sawfish.
Granted there are seemingly questionable species that are federally protected under the law, such as a bug called Coffin Cave Mold Beetle and the Zayante Band-winged Grasshopper as well as a couple of species of snails (Armored and Virginia Fringed Mountain). The Gopher frog is also endangered and so is the monito gecko, a type of lizard found in Puerto Rico. They all have their various environmentally relevant reasons for appearing on Uncle Sam’s list.
Now the agency that enforces the law and decides the species that appear on it, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, wants to add the New Mexico meadow jumping mouse. There’s a looming crisis, according to the agency, because the mouse hibernates eight to nine months a year leaving an active period of just three to four months to breed, give birth, raise young and eat enough to survive the lengthy hibernation period.
This could be serious, the Fish and Wildlife Service explains, because the jumping mice have a short life span, generally living only three years and they have very small litters of seven or less. This means the species has limited capacity for high population growth rates due to this low “fecundity,” the agency writes in an announcement. “If resources are not available in a single season, jumping mice populations would be greatly stressed.” How could anyone sleep at night?
The Service is proposing to designate around 14,561 acres of critical habitat along streams in a number of counties located in New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona. “The jumping mouse has exceptionally specialized habitat requirements such as tall (averaging at least 24 inches) dense riparian vegetation, only found when wetland vegetation achieves full growth potential associated with perennial flowing water,” according to Fish and Wildlife.
A great deal of work, research and taxpayer resources go into the process of adding a species to the government’s list. This doesn’t just happen overnight. It involves data collection and documentation, which is made available to the public as the agency makes its case to protect a species. The law has three categories for organisms that need government protection; vulnerable, threatened and endangered.
In the case of this particular mouse, Fish and Wildlife’s extensive research reveals that since 2005 there have been 29 documented remaining populations spread across the conservation areas (2 in Colorado, 15 in New Mexico, and 12 in Arizona). Nearly all of the current populations are isolated and widely separated, and all of the 29 populations located since 2005 have patches of suitable habitat that are too small to support resilient populations of the jumping mouse. Because of the current conditions of isolated populations, when localities are extirpated there is little or no opportunity for natural recolonization of the area due to the species’ limited dispersal capacity.
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