SANTA FE, N.M. — New Mexico’s war over the meadow jumping mouse is escalating and moving ahead on multiple fronts.
Ranchers whose permits allow their cattle to graze in the Santa Fe National Forest object to a proposal to erect fencing covering 120 acres in a meadow where the mouse lives. They’re heading to Capitol Hill to plead their case to a House subcommittee.
At the same time, an environmental group instrumental in getting the mouse listed under the federal government’s Endangered Species Act filed paperwork last week to start the process of suing the U.S. Forest Service to protect the mouse’s habitat.
And the Forest Service is catching flak from both sides.
“The time for kind of compromise has long, long since past,” said John Horning, the executive director of WildEarth Guardians-NewMexico. “When a species is endangered, when a habitat is endangered, if anything, I would argue the Forest Service is moving too slowly, too cautiously … I don’t think the agency has any more excuses to keep waiting.”
“It’s the federal government that’s failed us,” said Mike Lucero, of New Mexico’s San Diego Cattleman’s Association and a member of a family of ranchers whose cattle has grazed the forest for more than 100 years. “They (the Forest Service) are trying to take the easy way out.”
Forest Service officials say they’re trying to strike a balance.
“What we’re doing is our affirmative responsibility to take care of the mouse, follow the law and, at the same time, assure that we can have a viable grazing program on national forest systems land,” said Robert Trujillo, the acting director of Wildlife, Fish and Rare Plants for the Southwest Region of the U.S. Forest Service.
But so far, neither the environmentalists nor the ranchers are happy.
In 2008 WildEarth Guardians submitted a petition seeking listing for the species and last month, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the mouse as endangered.
Although no final decision on the fencing has been made by the Forest Service, the July 10 letter reiterates that since the meadow jumping mouse was listed earlier this year as an endangered species, federal agencies “must ensure that any action they fund, authorize, or carry out is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any listed species.”
“It’s not a final decision,” Trujillo told New Mexico Watchdog. “But it’s a pretty good indication that we need to get some fencing done in there.”
Lucero said he and the ranchers are not opposed to fencing but think the Forest Service is going overboard.
Lucero is heading to Washington, D.C. to appear July 24 before the House Public Lands and Environmental Regulations Subcommittee, which is chaired byRep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah. He’ll be joined byNew Mexico Cattle Growers Associationand a commissioner from Otero County, which is involved ina similar dispute with the Forest Service over a gate that’s blocking cattle from drinking in a creek near the mouse’s habitat.
“We’re looking for a cooperative solution,” said Blair Dunn, one of the attorneys advising Lucero and the San Diego Cattleman’s Association.