By the way, mice can't read maps

Today the Fish and Wildlife Service formally issued one of those decisions that makes you stop and scratch your head.  They have decided to remove endangered species protections from the threatened Preble’s Meadow Jumping Mouse where it occurs in Wyoming while leaving it protected throughout the rest of its range in Colorado.  This mouse, whose large feet can propel it three feet into the air, is found along pristine streamsides of the Front Range.  The Service is arguing that the mice in Wyoming are facing fewer threats than those in Colorado and therefore don’t need protection.  There’s actually not convincing evidence that the mice in Wyoming are better off, but even if there were, the logic behind today’s decision seems to be missing.

Preble's meadow jumping mouse by Anne Ruggles

It may be too obvious to point out that the mice don’t know which state they are in.  Now they can switch from being protected to not being protected all in a day’s work just by crossing an invisible (but highly political) line.  More importantly, if a species is facing endangerment or extinction in one area, but fairing ok in another area wouldn’t you want to protect both areas to ensure the continued survival of the species?  The populations that are doing well may be all that’s left if the other populations go extinct.  And by not protecting the ones that are doing well, you are only further endangering their survival and therefore the future of the entire species.  

For example, one of the biggest threats to the Preble’s mouse is real estate development along the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains from just south of Denver north into Wyoming.  With today’s decision there is nothing to stop developers from moving their plans north into Preble’s habitat in Wyoming and then there would be nothing to protect the mice in Wyoming from facing the same threats they have been facing in Colorado. 

The use of state lines to delineate protection for these mice just highlights the political nature of this decision.  The state of Wyoming has been angling to delist the mouse for years including supporting a genetic study that was based on contaminated samples.  For now, they’ve gotten their wish.  But this kind of decision-making opens the door to arbitrarily assign piecemeal protections to any endangered species according to the Service’s whims.

In fact, this decision is so flawed and illogical – as one scientist put it – it chases its own tail.  Ironically, the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse is known for using its tail - much like a rudder - to change its direction in mid jump.  We plan to challenge this decision in the hopes that we can steer endangered species protection for this mouse - and other endangered wildlife - back on course.

About the Authors

Sylvia Fallon

Senior Director, Wildlife Division, Nature Program

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