Wyoming, feds settle mouse lawsuit

June 26, 2007

Wyoming Tribune-Eagle

CHEYENNE (AP) - Wyoming has settled its lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over the threatened-species listing of the Preble's meadow jumping mouse.

The state sued in January after the federal agency didn't act on a 2003 request by the state to eliminate protection for the mouse under the Endangered Species Act.

The settlement, accepted Friday in U.S. District Court in Cheyenne, gives the Fish and Wildlife Service until Oct. 31 to decide whether the tiny mouse deserves all the privileges of a threatened species.

Under the settlement, the agency must determine whether the mouse is a distinct subspecies of jumping mouse. It also must decide whether the 1998 listing was based on complete science.

Attorney General Pat Crank said if the deadline isn't met, the state could force the federal government to comply with the agreement.

"We've gained some leverage," Crank said Monday.

The Preble's mouse is found in Colorado and eastern Wyoming. Builders and landowners contend that environmentalists are using the mouse to stop development on 31,000 acres in Colorado and Wyoming that have been designated as critical mouse habitat.

In 2005, the Interior Department proposed lifting protection for the mouse based on a study by a Denver biologist that found the mouse was indistinguishable from other jumping mice. But a panel of outside scientists convened by the Fish and Wildlife Service later concluded that the mouse is a unique subspecies worthy of protection.

A University of Wyoming study concluded that farmers in the area suffer economic losses of 12 percent a year because of an inability to cultivate irrigated land, while developers estimate the mouse will cost them tens of millions of dollars.

Environmentalists counter that politicians are trying to influence decisions regarding the mouse in favor of developers.



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