Environmentalists and the U.S. Forest Service are at war in Arizona’s White Mountains. Their legal dispute involves roving livestock, trampling horses, and . . . jumping mice.
Several groups filed a lawsuit last week in U.S. District Court. They want cows, horses, and other livestock to stay out of streams and other wetlands. They say the large animals are ruining the native home of an uncommon mouse species.
The suit claims the U.S. Forest Service is violating the Endangered Species Act. How? By failing to maintain fences, round up wild animals, and enforce grazing regulations on forest land in Arizona. The groups say those failures have caused damage to the New Mexico meadow jumping mouse’s habitat.
The rare rodents are called “jumping mice” because when scared, they can leap more than two feet into the air. Jumping mice live near streams. They depend on tall grass to hide from predators. God gave these mice extra-long tails to help them keep their balance—especially when climbing plant stems to reach ripening seeds, a main food source.
Biologists blame drought, wildfires, flooding, and livestock grazing for the rodent’s declining numbers. But critics disagree. They say it’s the fault of free-ranging horses and cows that have trampled the tall grass where the jumping mice jump.
“We entrust the care and protection of these publicly owned treasures to the Forest Service,” says Robin Silver. She’s a cofounder of the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups that is suing. Silver claims the Forest Service has “completely [abandoned] its responsibility” and that “the adorable jumping mouse is being pushed closer to extinction.”
Officials in the Forest Service say the agency is working to control livestock access to riverbank and wetland areas—all while balancing water and private land rights.
Meanwhile, the best-laid plans of mice and researchers include monitoring the rodents—by analyzing what they’re eating and using radio collars to track them. Officials hope the information they collect will help spur a population jump for meadow jumping mice.
(U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service worker Debra Hill weighs a New Mexico meadow jumping mouse. Stacey Stanford/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via AP, File)