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Feds declare N.M. meadow jumping mouse an endangered species

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Tuesday declared the New Mexico meadow jumping mouse an endangered species, saying that without active conservation efforts the mouse will be at “elevated risk of extinction.”

The designation comes one year after the service first proposed listing the mouse – which lives in parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado – and 29 years after it was first eligible for endangered status.

For conservationists, the designation comes none too soon.

“Extinction is imminent,” said Jay Lininger, senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Something needs to be done.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service said it would be “prudent” to designate critical habitat to protect the mouse, but has not made a final decision on that.

When it first proposed listing the mouse last summer, the service said it was studying 14,561 acres along streams in Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado as possible critical habitat. About 6,000 of the acres that were under study were in the White Mountains of Arizona’s Greenlee and Apache counties.

Fish and Wildlife Service officials could not be reached for comment Tuesday. The notice in the Federal Register announcing the endangered species designation only said that a decision on critical habitat would be posted soon.

But Lininger said the “tiny areas of land” currently available to the mice are not viable habitats for the animal to survive long term.

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“They are confined to 12 acres,” Lininger said.

The mouse, which hibernates eight to nine months out of the year, has “exceptionally specialized” habitat requirements, according to the endangered status notice.

The mouse dwells near streams and can only survive in dense riparian vegetation composed of sedges and forbs. The habitat serves the mice well, providing vital nourishment from insects and seeds.

Nourishment is critical to the mouse, which has just three to four months during the summer to breed, raise their young and fatten up again for their long hibernation period.

Acceptable habitat must also be a haven that provides enough material for the mouse to build nests and seek shelter from predators.

Jumping mice have life spans of three years or less and annually produce a litter of up to seven mice. Those characteristics, taken together, do not give the mouse a chance at high population growth.

The Fish and Wildlife Service said grazing, drought, wildfires and water management and use are the main causes of habitat loss for the mouse.

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Jennifer K. Frey/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

A New Mexico meadow jumping mouse in a 2006 photo from Sugarite Canyon State Park in New Mexico. The mouse, which lives in Arizona as well, has been declared an endangered species.

A mouse tale

The federal government declared the New Mexico meadow jumping mouse an endangered species. Some details about the mouse:

  • Range: Historical distribution likely included grassy wetlands along streams from southern Colorado to central New Mexico and parts of Arizona’s White Mountains.
  • Size: Anywhere from 180 to 240 mm (7 to 9.5 inches), with its tail accounting for 108 to 165 mm (4 to 6.5 inches) of that length.
  • Lifespan: Three years.
  • Behavior: The mouse can jump up to 3 feet high to escape from danger. It is also capable of swimming and diving, with a maximum dive of 4 feet.
  • Diet: Prefers seeds, but will eat berries, fruit and insects.