Rodents Not Endangered Species
Extensive studies conducted by researchers at the Denver Museum of Nature and History have shown that the Preble meadow jumping mouse is not a distinct species from other common mice and does not deserve protection under the Endangered Species Act.
The scientists concluded, through painstaking DNA trials, that Prebel's (Zapus hudsonius preblei) is genetically indistinguishable from another mouse (Zapus hudsonius camPESTris) that infests wide areas of Wyoming, Montana, the Dakotas and Canada.
Immediately upon news of the findings, Wyoming Governor Dave Freudenthal fired off a 110-page petition to the U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) to have Preble's removed from the threatened and endangered list.
The FWS, however, has refused to remove the mouse from the list, saying the "available science doesn't justify yanking federal protections…" according to Ralph Morgenweck, director of the Service's regional office in Lakewood, CO. Governor Freudenthal said FWS should "direct its scarce resources to an animal that actually needs protection and recovery."
In another development, Senate Minority Leader, Tom Daschle (D-SD), sent a letter to FWS director Steven A. Williams, urging the agency to drop consideration of prairie dogs for protection under the ESA. "The notion that the prairie dog is threatened defies logic," the Senator wrote. [A] multi-state study of prairie dog populations recently concluded that the species was biologically viable and therefore did not meet the definition of an endangered species" he continued.
OFFICE OF GOVERNOR DAVE FREUDENTHAL
DECEMBER 18, 2003
******FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE******
Contact: Ryan Lance
CHEYENNE, Wyo. - Supporting long-standing assertions by the state of Wyoming, researchers at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science have found that what is commonly known as the Preble's meadow jumping mouse is not genetically distinct from a common type of mouse. Given this finding, Gov. Dave Freudenthal this week filed a 110-page petition with the U.S. Department of Interior to have the Preble's meadow jumping mouse removed from the list of threatened and endangered animals.
Agriculture producers would not be subject to restrictions on irrigation ditch maintenance, weed control, haying or any usual ranching and farming activity. Municipalities would not have to set aside habitat for a rare mouse or spend additional funds to mitigate any project which could impact mouse habitat.
Federal agencies would not have to conduct Section 7 consultations
with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about the mouse when doing projects or alterations in mouse habitat. Also, all Section 9 penalties would be removed, which means no one could be fined or jailed for "taking" a mouse.
"The good news is that this means one less species in danger," Gov. Dave Freudenthal said. "The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can now direct its scarce resources to an animal that actually needs protection and recovery."
In the spring of 2003, the state of Wyoming contracted with the Denver Museum of Nature & Science to conduct mitochondrial DNA research to determine if the Preble's meadow jumping mouse was a truly unique species. To fund the study, the state of Wyoming paid $61,430, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service paid $20,000.
State officials have suspected the listing of the mouse was improper since it occurred in 1998, saying questions remained unanswered about the actual rarity of the species.
Genetic zoologists at the museum have concluded that the state was right to question the Fish and Wildlife Service's actions. According to the scientists, the Preble's meadow jumping mouse (Zapus hudsonius
preblei) is genetically indistinguishable from another mouse (Zapus hudsonius campestris). The campestris variety is widely abundant and is found in Wyoming, Montana, the Dakotas and Canada.
"The DNA work shows that the mouse they called Preble's is actually part of a healthy population of mice throughout the northern plains," said state Department of Agriculture Director John Etchepare. "Even better is that the habitat is in great shape from Montana to Colorado."
In addition to the genetics work, the delisting petition provides a thorough summary of trapping results done during the last five years, which show conclusively that the mouse is still found in all habitat units in its historic range and some areas where it was not known to exist historically. Populations of mice in these habitat units appear to be thriving. This information is in direct contrast to claims made at the time the mouse was originally listed, when little information was available for the mouse.
Wheatland-based environmental consultant Aaron Clark wrote the petition on behalf of the state, and his company, PIC Technologies Inc., provided computer mapping abilities that illustrated the science behind the petition. Mouse-trapping on private land by Renee Taylor of True Companies helped determine the mouse's true status and provided scientific information for inclusion in the delisting petition. State agencies involved included the governor's office, the state Game and Fish Department and the state Department of Agriculture.
"Wyoming ag producers have done a wonderful job in providing
habitat for all wildlife, including mice," said Matt Hoobler,
agriculture programs coordinator for the state Department of Agriculture.
"The irony is that they wouldn't have had to deal with the heavy
restrictions associated with a threatened or endangered species if
they hadn't been providing habitat in the first place."
Jumping mouse left on list
DENVER - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service refused Thursday to remove the Preble's meadow jumping mouse from the Endangered Species List, even as new research was announced that will keep the dispute alive.
The agency said available science doesn't justify yanking federal protections for the mouse found along the Rockies' eastern front in Colorado and southeastern Wyoming, said Ralph Morgenweck, director of the service's regional office in Lakewood.
The agency declared the mouse threatened in 1998 and designated 31,220 acres, mostly along waterways, in both states as critical habitat for the rodent. The designation limits land use in the mouse's habitat, angering ranchers and landowners and prompting a lawsuit by the Mountain States Legal Foundation, which advocates private property rights.
Also Thursday, Denver-based scientists said new research shows the mouse isn't a distinct subspecies - a designation that was the basis for placing it on the Endangered Species List.
"It's a bit of a bombshell," said Rob Roy Ramey, who led the research at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.
Environmentalists said the research won't be the final word on the issue. Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Sharon Rose also said the agency's scientists need to review the findings.
"We will seek out all information available," Rose said. Fish and Wildlife paid $20,000 to help fund the study.
The state of Wyoming, which contributed $61,430 of its own money to the study, referred to the research as it announced it has petitioned Fish and Wildlife to remove the mouse from the list.
Fish and Wildlife should be able to "direct its scarce resources to an animal that actually needs protection and recovery," Gov. Dave Freudenthal said.
Ramey and his colleagues, Hsui-Ping Liu and Lance Carpenter, say the Preble's meadow jumping mouse is not physically or genetically distinct from jumping mice found elsewhere, including northeastern Wyoming, southeast Montana and western South Dakota. The mouse is 9 inches long, including its tail.
Ramey said earlier work by the Fish and Wildlife Service relied on only a few samples in looking at the mouse, while the new research used 176 samples and more advanced techniques. He said he expected criticism from environmental groups that campaigned for protection for the mouse.
"I'm a strong advocate for the Endangered Species Act. I want that act to be around when I'm dead," Ramey said. "But I think we should be reviewing our conservation priorities."
Ramey is submitting the report to other scientists to evaluate.
"The research is very important and very helpful, but it's not the final word," said Jeremy Nichols , endangered species coordinator with the Biodiversity Conservation Alliance in Laramie.
Jacob Smith, executive director of the Paonia-based Center for Native Ecosystems, said one study isn't enough to warrant removing the mouse from the endangered list. Smith said Ramey had expressed doubt from the start that the Preble's meadow jumping mouse was a separate subspecies.
Ramey said he was careful to define the study's standards to reach objective conclusions.
The Mountain States Legal Foundation has filed a federal lawsuit in Wyoming challenging the mouse's designation as a threatened species. Chris Massey, a staff lawyer, said Ramey's research supports the foundation's argument that the designation was based on shoddy science.
Sen. Craig Thomas, R-Wyo., said he has introduced legislation in Congress that would require DNA evidence before a listing petition is granted.
The federal critical habitat designation covers 20,680 acres along 234 miles of rivers and streams in Douglas, Jefferson, Larimer and Teller counties in Colorado. In Wyoming, the area includes 10,540 acres on 125 miles of waterways in Albany, Converse, Laramie and Platte counties.
Daschle seeks to end ESA review of prairie dogs
In a letter to Fish and Wildlife Service director Steven A. Williams, Daschle cited substantial prairie dog populations in South Dakota, and said, "The notion that the prairie dog is threatened defies logic."
In 2000, the Fish and Wildlife Service found that the black-tailed prairie dog deserved listing as a threatened species, but the agency delayed an official listing until it finishes with higher-priority species.
Significant recent studies have concluded that prairie dogs are not threatened and do not meet the definition of an endangered species, according to a news release from Daschle.
"South Dakota farmers and ranchers know that prairie dogs are far from endangered," Daschle said. "Still, the potential that these animals may be covered by the act creates substantial uncertainty for public and private efforts to manage and control prairie dog populations. It is time to end this uncertainty and remove prairie dogs from consideration as an endangered species."
A multi-state study of prairie dog populations recently concluded that the species was "biologically viable" and therefore did not meet the definition of an endangered species, Daschle said. Also, preliminary results from a prairie dog population study by the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish & Parks indicates a sufficient population of prairie dogs in the state, he said.
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