TUCSON― Conservation groups and the U.S. Forest Service reached an agreement today to protect meadows and streams in eastern Arizona’s White Mountains from cows and horses. The riparian areas are home to the critically endangered New Mexico meadow jumping mouse.
Under the agreement, the Forest Service will complete, monitor and maintain fences in New Mexico meadow jumping mouse habitat on the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest and remove feral animals when they are discovered. In addition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will prepare a recovery plan for the jumping mouse as required by the Endangered Species Act.
“This is an important victory for jumping mice and Arizona’s rapidly disappearing riparian habitat,” said Robin Silver, a cofounder of the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’re glad the Forest Service has agreed to fix fences and round up feral animals. Hopefully it’s not too late for this fragile little animal. The law protects the jumping mouse’s home in these beautiful mountain streams and meadows, and thanks to this agreement it’ll finally be enforced.”
In February 2020 the Center for Biological Diversity and the Maricopa Audubon Society sued the Forest Service and Fish and Wildlife Service for violating the Endangered Species Act and failing to control damage from feral animals to the meadows and streams that are the jumping mouse’s federally protected habitat.
Staff members from the Center and Maricopa Audubon have documented extensive damage from feral horses and cows in the area. The Forest Service’s management plan acknowledges the federal requirement to keep these animals off the mouse’s critical habitat. In addition to fence reconstruction and repair, the agreement will require monthly inspections and require any feral animals to be removed within 14 days.
“Cattle and feral horses have trampled and fragmented the jumping mouse’s mountain home, so this agreement should go a long way toward repairing that damage,” said Mark Larson, president of the Maricopa Audubon Society. “The cows have been removed, but hundreds of destructive feral horses must be rounded up before they do more damage and push these mice closer to extinction.”
In June 2019 the groups filed a formal request with Apache-Sitgreaves Forest Supervisor Steve Best asking the Forest Service to round up the horses and cows to stop the damage. Field surveys then found hundreds of unauthorized cows and feral horses in riparian areas that the Forest Service claimed were fenced off and protected.
The New Mexico meadow jumping mouse hibernates for up to nine months a year, leaving a narrow window each summer to mate, reproduce and gain enough weight to survive its long hibernation. The little mouse has highly specialized habitat needs, such as tall, dense grasses and forbs found only in riparian areas along perennial flowing streams.